Great holiday panto fun in Camelot with EXCALI-PURR: The Once & Future Cat

Red Sandcastle Theatre’s (RST) Panto Players take us on a wacky fun medieval adventure of knights, wizards, destiny—and, of course, an unusual, feisty pink cat—with their multimedia production EXCALI-PURR: The Once & Future Cat. Co-written by Jane A. Shields and Rosemary Doyle, and directed/choreographed by Jackie English, this is RST’s eighth holiday pantomime.

Young Wart (a plucky, precocious turn from Rosie Callaghan) leaves his home with adopted father Sir ‘Ector (a delightfully silly Taran Beaty) and jealous, whiny brother Kay (Farid Yazdani, with a comical sly, pernicious edge—and who does a darn good Elvis) to seek his destiny with the help of a guitar playing wizard who ages backwards (Beaty, who finally gets to play a good guy this time, as the cheeky, enigmatic Merlin) and the effervescent Twanky of the Lake (played with sassy gusto by Andrew McGillivray, who also acts as our host with the 411 on traditional panto audience responses).

Meanwhile, the evil sorceress Morgan Le Fey (played with delightful, exacting and nasty glee—plus mad trash talking skills—by Linette Doherty) plots to rule the world with a new pink, four-legged associate. Can it be that our favourite pink cat (Jackie English, with lovable sauce and guile) has gone over to the dark side? With the contest for the sword in the stone (aka Excalibur) coming, Le Fey invites Kay into her nefarious plan to secure Excalibur and the throne of England. Throw in the Pokémon-seeking knight Sir Pelinore (a treat of a goofy performance from Matthew Donovan), who challenges Kay in the joust, and we have some riotous panto adventure for kids of all ages. Will Wart find his destiny? Will good prevail?

Of course! With twists and turns, and plenty of goofy good times, laughs and music along the way (including live music performed by the multi-talented cast), EXCALI-PURR combines projected images; revamped pop tunes (from iconic rock, to hip hop and R&B, to show tunes); nods to magic/adventure movies (Harry Potter, Monty Python’s Holy Grail, Back to the Future and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button); and audience participation to great effect. All played out on a set that wraps the audience in the story—and held together by multi-tasking stage manager Deborah Ann Frankel (also the General Manager at RST since owner/AD Rosemary Doyle started a new gig as AD/Producer at Theatre Kingston back in August).

EXCALI-PURR: The Once & Future Cat continues at Red Sandcastle Theatre (922 Queen St. East, at Queen/Logan) until January 6, with evening performances at 7pm on Dec 28-30 and Jan 2-5, and matinées at 3pm on Dec 29-31 and Jan 5-6. Tickets ($25 adult, $15 child and family fun pack $60) are available online, by calling the box office at 416-845-9411 or at the door (cash only).

And that, my friends, is officially my final review of 2018. I’ll be back in January for more amazing Toronto theatre. Happy holidays and all good things for 2019!

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Big shiny panto fun with Panto Players’ Sleepy Beauty @ Red Sandcastle Theatre

Sleepy-Beauty-Star-CorrectedSheets and coloured fabric, plus some artfully custom cut tape and green felt, become castle walls and turrets, and an enchanted forest. All part of the magic and imagination at Red Sandcastle Theatre – in this case, for the Panto Players’ production of Sleepy Beauty – The Tale of the Narcoleptic Princess and Her Cat.

Written by Jane A. Shields and Red Sandcastle A.D./impressaria Rosemary Doyle, and directed by Jackie English, this modern-day retelling of the beloved fairy tale features a sparkling, multi-talented ensemble cast and a head boppin’, toe tappin’ series of pop tunes tailored for the show.

Three fairies (Matthew Donovan, Victor Pokinko and Brenda Somers) attending a christening for Princess Suzie come up with a plan to thwart the evil machinations of bad fairy Malefolent (Taran Beaty), softening the curse set upon the infant, tasking a remarkable pink cat (English) with looking after her, then finding a prince (Andy Ingram) to break the sleeping spell that bewitches a teenage Suzie (Rebecca Perry).

The fairies are a treat: Donovan is all heart and southern gentility, with a touch of befuddlement and insecurity, as Twankey Fairy; Pokinko is fabulously dapper and entertaining as woodland Fairy of the Trees Algonquin (but you can call him Al); and Somers is a ball of blue fun as the sharp-witted, colourful-haired Fairy of the Lake. Perry is adorably precocious as Princess Suzie (also doing double duty as the hilariously doting Queen) and has an impressive set of pipes; and Ingram is wonderfully goofy as the handsome, but dim-witted, Prince Joe (and gives a comic turn as the King). Beaty is chock full of evil comedic deliciousness as the jealous and vengeful horned fairy Malefolent. And English is a delight as everyone’s favourite wry-witted pink cat with a French accent.

All the shenanigans kept running by Doyle (wearing many hats, including box office, lighting FX and palace guard) and SM Deborah Ann Frankel, Sleeping Beauty features colourful, striking costuming (designed by Doyle, who also did the set) and catchy, fun tunes borrowed from pop – lyrics rewritten for the show – like “Wake Up, Little Suzie,” “Can’t Touch This,” and “Celebration,” and from artists like Katy Perry and ZZ Top. And the entire cast transforms into a band, rockin’ out on “Call Me Al” – with Beaty on guitar, Donovan on trombone and Pokinko on keys.

Sleepy Beauty is a big shiny panto good time for kids of all ages.

Sleepy Beauty continues its run at Red Sandcastle Theatre until Jan 4, including 2 p.m. matinees (Dec 28 and 31, Jan 3 and 4) and 7 p.m. shows (Dec 29 and 30, Jan 2 and 3).