Appealing cast is strong suit of White Rock’s Aladdin

Players Club pantomime long, but packs in genuine laughs

If the Genie of the Lamp granted me three wishes for White Rock Players Club’s 65th Christmas pantomime Aladdin and the Magic Lamp (continuing to Dec. 29 at White Rock Playhouse), one would definitely be for a shorter running time (and ever-tighter technical cues).

At the official opening on Friday, Dec. 6, the show came in at some three hours, including intermission, and that’s a long time to hold an audience’s attention – particularly for the younger members of the audience.

Magically, the crowd that night – unusually young for a non-matinee performance – were right with it all the way (and that, reportedly, has been the case in subsequent shows).

For that, principal credit must go to an energetic and appealing cast, headed by Adrian Shaffer in the title role.

Shaffer has emerged as a stellar performer on the White Rock stage over the past year-and-a-half, thanks to a 100-per-cent commitment to every role, whether leading or supporting.

As Aladdin, she thoroughly fits the bill for panto principal boy, adding to already-noted accomplishments a tuneful singing voice, an easy-going cheekiness and a nicely-judged rapport with the children in the house.

Sara Morales is equally likable as principal girl Princess Jasmine, making the character believably strong-willed in resisting her father’s attempts to marry her off to one of a series of wealthy, but unexciting, suitors.

The second wish would be for even more of Reginald Pillay’s hilarious schtick as her dad, the fickle, giddy (and giggly) Emperor; more of Jake Hildebrand’s impressively powerful singing, dancing and comedic villainy as the scheming Abanazer; and more of the uniquely droll touch that Janelle Carss brings to all her characters – in this case, the humorously-conflicted Genie of the Ring.

More, too, of the Genie himself – dynamic musical theatre performer Christopher Hall (last seen locally in FVGSS’ Seussical) who gives an ultra-flamboyant interpretation that gets the full benefit of glitzy costumes by Amara Anderson and makes good use of the panto’s Freddie Mercury/Queen/Elton John score.

Third wish would be that Chase Thomson’s script – while largely serviceable – would invest more time in character development and less in repetitive (and, in my view, highly disposable) banter.

This is most noticeable in the dynamic of Aladdin’s family, which never seems to progress beyond the basic set-up.

Ray Van Ieperen is an always reliable panto laugh-getter, and it’s no surprise he wins his customary share of yuks with his stringy, man-hungry take on Widow Twankey, although it’s not as showy a dame role as White Rock audiences are accustomed to.

But Paige Thomsen, while clearly a highly capable comedy player, has been given little to do as Wishy Washy, Aladdin’s brother, perpetually in the shadow of the favourite son.

It’s only when Wishy Washy meets Jasmine’s eternally put-upon handmaiden Handy – the equally-capable, but under-utilized comedienne Dianna Gola-Harvey – and romance blossoms, that both characters begin to flourish.

Co-producer Charles Buettner gets into the act with a funny turn as a royal adviser who seems much more like a reality TV show host, while stage manager Scott Townsend has an amusing cameo as one of the potential suitors for Jasmine.

And what would shows like this be without the heart and energy that each of this cast’s young supporting chorus members bring to their performances?

Dann Wilhelm has directed smoothly and brings out some nice comedy business, although the script, even with some timely references tossed in, doesn’t quite measure up to his own inspired original, Robin Hood and the Skytrain of Doom, which he directed and acted in last year.

Pre-recorded back-up by musical director Marquis Byrd is strong – if not played back loudly enough on opening night – and Sierra Milne has provided some simple, yet effective, choreography.

Set design by Damon Bradley-Jang and Buettner is ingenious and provides the requisite colourful touch – albeit a tad too minimalist for my taste – and Anderson’s costumes are colourful, too, and suitably panto-like.

Performances are at 7:30 p.m., with 2:30 p.m. Sunday matinees. Tickets ($24, $20 students and seniors) are available from whiterockplayers.ca or call 604-536-7535.



alex.browne@peacearchnews.com

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