Frog Princess keeps joint jumping
One of the drawbacks of original home-grown pantomime scripts is a tendency to prolong the running time – and an unwillingness to lose dialogue that, however clever it seems on paper, obstructs the flow of the show.
It is true that The Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society's The Frog Princess – co-authored by director Mike Balser, Norma Rushton and Cathy Wilmot – is long, and that some of the scenes could be punched-up by tightening and trimming.
The Frog Princess also lacks some emotional pull, by focusing on being flip and funny at the expense of the pathos of its situations.
But there's no mistaking that, right from its dynamic opening ensemble number, Brighter Than The Sun, this set-in-mythical-Russia pantomime (with fine settings by Omanie Elias and costuming by Christie Zaporozan) comes on like gangbusters, determined to entertain, and succeeding.
And how often do you find yourself tapping your feet along with any pantomime accompaniment group – or, for that matter, any stage musical accompaniment group? Musical director Timothy Tucker and his musicians know how to rock out – and, in this show, he has lead actors with voices capable of producing a well-nigh professional sound.
Foremost among them is his own daughter, Chelsea Rose Tucker – emerging from the ingenue role of Christine in last year's Phantom of the Panto to embody the villainess role of glamourous witch Ivana Castacurski.
She's posture-and-mannerism-perfect as the evil wanna-be stepmother who turns Princess Anastasia into a frog, and her electrifying singing of I Put A Spell On You is a knockout moment in the show – while her cute duet on Chu-Chi Face (with the equally, and eternally, cute Adrian Duncan as her intended, the Tsar) is everything such a number ought to be.
Playing Anastasia is Sheena Johnson, who imbues what could be simply another principal girl role with a confident showbiz flair to match the character's sassy commentary. She solos effectively on It's Not Easy Being Green and Help (well complemented by the show's outstanding junior frog chorus) and duets agreeably with Michelle Gaetz in the principal boy role of Misha.
Gaetz, notable as Pinocchio in last year's White Rock panto, provides a nice comic sensibility to Misha – who finds himself awkwardly drawn to Anastasia in spite of his loathing of frogs.
Also making a welcome return in this year's FVGSS effort are two other comic stalwarts: James Walker, who brings his offbeat, consistently funny timing to Ivana's Russian-mobster-accented slacker son Boris, and Joni Hayden-Summerton, whose lanky, expressive frame and sure comedy instincts add to the role of Petra, Anastasia's best friend.
Other notable returnees are such other 'keepers' of the FVGSS panto stock company as the ever-droll Jeff Christensen and consistently bubbly Samantha Andrews as Officer Croissant and Officer Crumpet of the 'Panto Police', and Carley Miller, who can shift from secondary characters like Nadia to playing tuneful steel drums without missing a beat.
Croy Jenkins makes an auspicious debut as hotel-keeper Dame Olga – although limited in opportunities for the Dame's traditional flirtatiousness, and lacking a dedicated musical feature – while former FVGSS regular Jim McGroarty (another welcome return) and Nathaniel Olsson have the right light touch as Olga's lazy sons Pasha and Sasha, and Kate Naylor makes the most of Pasha's fiance Katya.
Also doing well by chances to shine are Keira Jang as Messenger, Barbie Warwick as high school science teacher Professor Lopimov, Robert Bell as the Pastor and a typically strong FVGSS chorus, ably choreographed by Carol Seitz.
The Frog Princess continues at Surrey Arts Centre until Dec. 8.