Ross Petty and His Toronto Tradition of Fractured Fairy Tale Musicals

Cove Nov 30, 2012

Submitted by Sandy Graham

So how does a serious actor/dancer/singer come from Winnipeg, end up in Europe, perform on Broadway and create his own role on the #1 ‘soap’ All My Children?

‘I actually went to Victoria to study acting, and when I decided it was time to take my craft to the next level, England was far more advanced at that point so I headed to London to apply to the BBC. My family, although not musical in anyway, supported me in my quest, and my mother always was there for me.  It all really started in England.”

Ross Petty was born in Winnipeg, Canada and at the tender age of 23 traveled abroad, and although the BBC did not pan out, what did happen was a role with Betty Grable in the London West End musical, Belle Star. Not bad for a kid on his own in Europe. This led him to France, where he actually sang at Le Lido in Paris. “I just lucked out, it was all very easy back then. I was young and fearless and living the life of a performer. We had 1 show at 11 pm – the second at 1 am. It was an upside down schedule – sleeping during the day and working until dawn. It was all very glamourous, with gorgeous chorus line girls in skimpy outfits. I did a full year of it before the hours took their toll. I decided to go to New York at that point and give it a shot. I was young and fearless back then, with nothing to lose.”

Ross PettyRoss PettyIn the US, Petty had his debut on Broadway in Arthur Kopit’s Wings.  This somehow led to a daytime role in the legendary soap opera, where Petty created the role of Eddie Dorrance. (He also co-starred with Ginger Rogers and Sid Caesar in a nation tour of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes.) He appeared in the U.S. and Canada in the title role of Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, directed by Hal Prince. “We played Canada and in Toronto we appeared at the Royal Alex. That is where I met my wife, Karen Kain.”

His film and television credits include Extreme Measures with Gene Hackman and Hugh Grant, Perry Mason, Spenser: For Hire, Monk, Loving Friends and Perfect Couples, Forever Knight, E.N.G., Night Heat, Seeing Things, Hot Shots, All My Children, A Judgement in Stone, Kung Fu: The Legend Continues, Counterstrike, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne, Traders, F/X2 and Martha Inc: The Martha Stewart Story.

With a penchant and passion for character voices, Petty has done many spots in several cartoon shows including X-Men, The Busy World of Richard Scarry, Bob and Margaret, Mythic Warriors: Guardians of the Legend, Bad Dog, Redwall, Mischief City, Ned's Newt, Jacob Two-Two, Monster Force, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Freaky Stories, Free Willy, Rupert, The Adventures of Tintin, Little Bear, Roboroach, Birdz, Pippi Longstocking and Rescue Heroes. “There was so much work in Canada at one point. American film companies worked here as the dollar exchange was so good for them. Much of that work has dried up with the dollar being almost at par now.”

So what leads a serious and talented actor  to start a Toronto traditional of his Christmas Fractured Fairy Tales ? “I wanted control of my career. I wanted to call the shots and produce my own shows. I learned from the best of the best with the Brits, and it is a wonderful experience putting the patomimes on every year.”

Since 1996, Ross Petty Productions have been producing what has now become known as  “Fractured Fairy Tale Musicals” at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre. The shows are firmly in the old English pantomime tradition, incorporating many of that style’s elements — broad comedy, audience participation, and of course, always a man in a dress.

Graham Abbey, Ross Petty, Melissa O'Neill Eddie GlenGraham Abbey, Ross Petty, Melissa O'Neill Eddie GlenPetty has managed to capture the humour that made Shrek such a hit, with silly antics that children giggle at and parents get the other meaning of the joke. The writing on these productions is brilliant with characters like Lady BaBa (yes a singing sheep) and scenes where a moving set of trees has the cast yelling ‘Run Forest Run’! At all of the productions Petty always plays the villian. multi-talented enigma has no issue with taking the jabs and jeers of the audiencea, self-casting of the most-hated role each year, Petty embraces the villain character and endures loud boos from the second he steps on the stage. “I am always the bad guy. I love the reaction of the audience. This is a family show, and the bad guy always loses in the end.” In the current production of Snow White, Petty constantly deadpans to the audience how he loves the 'boos'. 

Shows from the past included Robin Hood, Jack and the Beanstalk, Aladdin, Cinderella, Peter Pan, Beauty and the Beast, The Wizard of Oz, and now for the third time (2001 and 2005) the classic tale of Snow White - with many a twist that includes appearances of one of the Three Little Pigs who dresses like Don Cherry, Pinocchio, a handsome casting of Jack (of The Beanstalk) Little Red Riding Hood, and a cast of wonderful dancers, with 007 and his gold lame girls to boot.  This year the cast is brimming with talent that includes Canadian Idol winner Melissa O’Neil Stratford leading man Graham Abbey, Second City alumnus Reid Janisse, Billy Lake and Eddie Glen, everyone’s favourite red head, returns as Petty’s bumbling sidekick.  Of course Producer Ross Petty has cast himself in evil role of villain/villainesse Snow White’s evil stepmother. There are twists and turns that we won't give away but this is a must see for all ages. 

Snow White - The Deliciously Dopey Family Musical runs November 23 2012  thru January 5 2013. For tickets 1-855-599-9090.

Editor’s Note: Having attended Ross Petty Productions’ of the Fractured Fairy Tales every year, this show has become as much a part of my holiday tradition as buying our Christmas Tree and decorating the house. Don’t miss this show – it will have you laughing for the whole time you are in your seat.