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'Sleeping Beauty' A Panto Reawakening (THE NAUGHTY VERSION)

Capitol Theatre, Port Hope

Courtesy of the Capitol Theatre Facebook page

Joe Szekeres

This naughty ‘Sleeping Beauty’ panto is not meant for children. Sometimes risqué, sometimes eyebrow-raising adult-oriented humour, moments of sound imbalance issues at the performance I attended impeded enjoyment of some of the humour found in the song lyric arrangements.

The Capitol Theatre billed this ‘Sleeping Beauty’ as a holiday tradition turned on its head.

It most certainly is. Be aware not to bring children to this naughty version.

In this production under the Capitol’s Artistic Director Rob Kempson’s guidance, panto writers Paloma Nuñez and Kevin Whalen set this ‘Sleeping Beauty’ at the centre of a conflict between Bell and Rogers, the two giant telecommunications plants in Canada. With Maleficent (a sultry, scorching, très hawt-looking and vocally in fine form Gabi Epstein) trying to regain her power, a spunky Tahirih Vejdani as Aurora (the Sleeping Beauty), the prince (a terrifically comical HRH Anand Rajaram) who tries to solve everything with a kiss, and a kind, gentle, adorable, and cuddly Cookie-monster sounding Sasquatch (a gutsy and daring Nathan Carroll), this ‘Sleeping Beauty’ pokes fun at many of the modern issues we face right now: cancel culture, corporate greed, society divisions, politics, gender ideology are only a few samples lampooned with some nicely timed comic moments and uniquely arranged and witty song lyrics.

This ‘naughty’ panto works because the humour never crosses the line into what might be construed as nasty or vulgar. There were many groaners and a couple of “oooooooooo” in the audience’s reaction when something was suggestive. For example, one punch line wasn’t evident until Rajaram (dressed as the fairy Flora) drew the letters in the air of the ‘c-word’ (and I don’t mean ‘cancer’).

The success behind any panto is to ensure the pacing of this terrific ensemble production clips along not at a rushed pace, but at one that allows the audience to react, respond and then move on. For this production, think ‘Benny Hill’ (I know, my age is showing) taken to comical extremes. The actors work feverishly to set everything up for the next scene during blackouts, and they are to be commended for that as it looks like they’re having a total body workout.

I found there was just a tad too many blackouts nevertheless as they broke my concentration and I had to get the momentum of interest built back up quickly once again.

Gotta hand it to director Kempson and Music Director/Arrangements of Scott Pietrangelo. For this naughty version, I think it’s all in good fun to call them ‘dirty, dirty boys’ as they pulled out some eyebrow-raising, thigh-slapping humourous stops in taking some well-known and current songs and arranging them for us adults. Some of Joyce Padua’s costumes are downright revealing on the ladies, Ian Simpson, and Nathan Carroll. I wonder if these same costumes are also worn for the ‘Nice’ performances or if there might be some alterations?

Hollywood Jade’s choreography reflected the intent behind the arrangement of the song lyrics. Louise Guinand’s lighting design provided that soft warm focus when necessary. Joshua Quinlan’s set design remained functional. The band played stage right. In front of them was a giant bookcase with what looked to be children’s books on the shelves. The downstage right was a huge lever with the words OFF and ON. This would be of importance as the panto progressed.

Periodically, Zac Mansfield’s sound design was sometimes imbalanced with the onstage band and the singers, and I couldn’t hear the lyrics. At the intermission, several people around me commented on this and said they were disappointed as they couldn’t hear some of the words to the songs. Hopefully, this adjustment has been rectified so future audiences can continue to hear the cleverly rewritten arrangements.

The story begins with the mother (Carolina Santos-Read) trying to get her children, the lispy toddler Biff (Carroll) and ‘know it all’ bigger sister Junior (Vejdani) settled down to get to sleep. The kids have heard there is a snow day tomorrow so the schools will be closed so, like any normal kids, they want to stay up later. Mother reminds them there is online schooling if there is a snow day, a grim reminder of what working parents had to do for home-schooling their children during the pandemic. In a modern statement of our time, Mother then texts on her phone while the kids decide to read a storybook aloud to all their stuffed animals in their room (meaning us the audience). This is where audience participation comes into play.

We’re then introduced to the zany version of this ‘Sleeping Beauty’ in meeting the randy yet devoted King (Trevor Martin) and his sexy looking, low cut ‘dress cut down to Venezuela’ (‘Addams Family’ musical reference) Queen (Christy Bruce). She and Maleficent have eyes for the servant man robot Bot Bot (another daring costume revelation by Ian Simpson.) Part of the fun in watching a panto is the gaffes that might occur during a performance that didn’t occur during the rehearsal process. Carroll had a quick change from his ‘Sasquatch’ attire back to the little boy at bedtime Biff. Carroll quickly had to get out of his costume, race up on the top bunk, and pull the covers over him. Well, the covers kept slipping down and Carroll kept trying to pull them back up while remaining in character as the little boy. Again, great fun watching how Carroll responded and reacted.

Final Comments: There are several pantos going on in Toronto right now. Ross Petty’s Final Flight at The Elgin opens this week (look for my review of this shortly).

If you’re thinking of what to do for an evening of friends (or perhaps an office party), swing by the Capitol in Port Hope to catch the naughty ‘Sleeping Beauty’. And if you have children and would like to introduce them to the world of the panto, check out the ‘Nice’ version and let me know what’s it like.

Running time: approximately two hours with one intermission.

‘Sleeping Beauty’ the Naughty panto runs until December 12 at the Capitol Theatre, 20 Queen Street, Port Hope. For tickets, call 905-885-1071 or

‘Sleeping Beauty’ A Panto Awakening
By Paloma Nuñez and Kevin Whalen

Director: Rob Kempson
Music Director: Scott Pietrangelo
Choreographer: Hollywood Jade
Set Designer: Joshua Quinlan
Costume Designer: Joyce Padua
Lighting Designer: Louise Guinand
Sound Designer: Zac Mansfield
Stage Manager: Charlene Saroyan

Artists: Christy Bruce, Nathan Carroll, Gabi Epstein, Trevor Martin, HRH Anand Rajaram, Carolina Santos Read, Ian Simpson, Tahirih Vejdani,

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