Ross Petty does Cinderella and She’s All the Better For It

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute

Talk about a fairytale life. Born in darkest Winnipeg, Ross Petty came off the blocks in a blazing run for the bright lights and has never looked back. The man has played Broadway, starred in London’s West End theatre which is the Brit Broadway, created a long running role on TV soap ‘All My Children,’ reared his lovable mug in numerous TV and movie roles and even voiced some of your fave cartoon characters in shows such as Ace Ventura Pet Detective, Pippi Longstocking and Free Willy. On top of all that, every night he gets to go home and sleep with real life ballerina and top shelf beauty Karen Kain. Dude, anything else we can get you?

In Toronto, Ross Petty is as Christmas as Santa, acquiring this lofty status from his annual pantomine productions of what he calls “Fractured Fairy Tale Musicals”. In the 19 years since he’s been doing it, Petty’s reworked childhood classics such as Snow White, The Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast and of course those perennial lovable men in tights, Robin Hood and Peter Pan.

Working out of the elegant Elgin Theatre since 1996, Ross Petty Productions’ shows are firmly in the old English pantomime tradition, incorporating many of that style’s elements: broad comedy, mandatory audience participatiion in the ritual booing of villans, saucy quips for the adults, satirising popular songs for the kiddies, nudge, nudge wink wink one-liners and a man in a dress, played by the great man himself.

Petty cut his pantomine teeth in the early 1980s working with a Brit producer Paul Elliott who introduced the concept to Toronto with shows staged at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. Elliott was a stickler for tradition with no tolerance for colouring outside the lines, who worked with a cast of imported Brit actors salted with the few Canucks who Elliott thought had a clue. Among the latter, Ross Petty, who first trod the panto boards in 1983 and by ’86 had became co-producer with Elliott. The relationship lasted a decade until 1996, when the Ross Petty vision of pantomine was launched. This involved retooling the genre for Canadian audiences, working from original scripts with a Canadian cast and modernizing the form with the use of current and local pop culture references and hilarious satirical versions of au courant tunes.

Along with the almost instant creation of a panto-going community, establishing the Elgin as home base for Ross Petty Productions breathed new and much needed life into that gorgeous one-of-a-kind theatre. The Elgin turned 100 this year and Petty was very much at the heart of the party. He told a reporter, “The Elgin and Winter Gardens is very important to me and I’m very happy it’s still functioning. All the greats of the American vaudeville tradition played here. These double-decker theatres used to be all over the place but now The Elgin and Winter gardens is the last one left in North America.”

This year at the Elgin, the mayor of mirth turns his attention to Cinderella. Petty’s back in his beloved role as the Pantomine Dame and the press release notes that it’s all your fault thusly, “Your copious emails, texts and tweets have convinced the producer to have Ross Petty return to familiar territory by once again stuffing his extraordinary body into a form fitting gown and creating chaos with every sultry utterance.”

Raucous and woozy-funny as ever, this take posits Cinderella (Danielle Wade) in downtown T.Dot where she’s having troubles running a farmer's market and supplying wholesome food at affordable prices. Hey, it’s a fairy tale. Looming largest among her probs is godawful stepmother, Revolta Bulldoza (Petty, dragging it up in outa control gowns and Stagger Lee heels), who’s looking to thrash the marekt and condo-ize the property. Running a close second, the Stepsisters Ugly (Cleopatra Williams and Bryn McAuley) who spend their lives chanelling various Kardashians, frequently taking time out to torture Cinderella but only in an offhand, Paris Hilton kinda way.

Nice girl though she is, Cindy does have urges, one of the most urgent being to hook up with Max Charming (Jeff Lillico), a pop star whose charitable causes involve dealings in the organic/wholesome food arena where Cinderella conducts her daily hustle. Seems like a natural and opportunity’s rearing its pretty head in the form of the Eligi-ball, a reality TV gala to be held at Casa Loma, to which Cindy doesn't have a ticket and doesn’t know anyone in the media. Enter one of the panto’s most beloved characters, fairy godmother Plumbum (Dan Chameroy). A messy wacko with a heart of platinum and a magic wand that sometimes does its own thing, Plumbum is in charge of briinging it all back home and telling how she manages it on this occasion would make me a spoiler and tbis is no time of year to be making enemies.

So, Cinderella is full of energy and amusements for the children, not the least of which is the villan-booing and bursts of laughter every time Plumbum does anything, dazzling costumes and truly inventive sets, the designers of which seem to top themselves every year, and that is really saying something.

For the parents, generous servings of satirical skewerings of people and events in the news, a thin blue line of racy humor and a good-hearted, fun-loving vibe.

If you're looking for something a little different as a holiday treat for the whole family, Ross Petty's Cinderella is just the ticket. The show runs through to January 4 and try to get there early to take in the elegant turn of the century beauty of the Elgin.