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The East Van Panto Brings Twisted Fairy Tales To Life

Ahead of the premiere of Beauty And The Beast, we asked musical director Veda Hille to make us a holiday playlist. 

by Ben Boddez

Photos by Emily Cooper

Part holiday tradition, part twisted-up fairy tale complete with musical numbers, and part humorous deconstruction of just about everything there is to (lovingly?) mock about the City of Vancouver at the present moment, Theatre Replacement’s East Van Panto celebrated its tenth anniversary last year and is continuing to forge boldly ahead with this year’s rendition of Beauty and the Beast, running from November 22 to January 7 at the York Theatre.

Starring Steffanie Davis and Munish Sharma, audiences can expect to see an uplifting tale interlaced with jabs at the surrounding East Vancouver area and its local politics – the show’s description promises an encounter with “a strangely familiar Beast who seems very set in his ways” who runs “an enchanted specialty grocery store.” Not to mention that it’ll all go along with the traditional uproarious audience participation that lets attendees cheer the heroes, boo the villains and sing along at will.

We caught up with longtime musical director Veda Hille – who, if traditions hold, you might just see on stage wearing a silly costume herself – to talk about the holiday spirit, the rehearsal process and why anyone who believes the Panto is just for kids is just plain wrong. We also asked her to preview the show with a holiday playlist of songs that might appear to get a Beauty and the Beast-style parody twist, which you can check out below.

What are some of your favourite musical moments in the show, and why did you choose some of the songs on the playlist to cover/parody?
Well, I try not to give too much away in advance, but here are some cryptic favourite moments from this year’s show: old skool sushi rap, an epic Adele moment, and a huge closing number that gets me in the feels every time.  Choosing the panto songs is one of my favourite year-long tasks; it’s a mixtape for the neighbourhood.  I try to make sure that we have a range of tunes: new bangers, classics, and a few deep cuts for people who are really paying attention. I’m particularly proud of a couple of Kylie Minogue hits this year, and of course keep your eyes open for a Ken moment.  You can check out the playlist at the Cultch’s website!

It’s always great to see the East Van Panto’s narrative twists on classic stories – are there any similar twists this year when it comes to Beauty and the Beast? Why do you think the story you’re telling resonates right now?
The playwrights this year are Christine Quintana and Jiv Parasram, and they’ve done a wild job of messing around with Beauty and the Beast. It might seem familiar at the start, but by the beginning of Act 2 your head will be whirling.  So freaking funny! And ridiculous!  Jiv and Christine are also very sharp, local, political people. The East Van community of 2023 will recognize themselves here, for sure.

Last year you told RANGE that the Panto is “A Christmas show, but with nothing to do with Christmas” – what’s giving things a holiday spirit this year?
Don’t you find that the holiday spirit is inherent in the weather and the gathering together?  That’s where it lives for me.  I mean, Panto has been an overwhelming part of my Christmas season for 11 years now. Tradition is what you make it, and I’m really happy that this show has given a lot of people a silly theatrical holiday as an ornament for their wintertime.

What’s the rehearsal process like?
We’re in the middle of Q2Q right now, which is where the show really comes together. We are all in the theatre 8-12 hours a day, working on every element of the production: lights, sound, music, choreography, stage management, script adjustments, blocking, and….oh yeah, acting. It is an incredibly exacting process. Theatre is a machine made of people, and this is a huge machine. We’re working very hard, and laughing A LOT.

Why should everyone make sure to come see the show?
I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again.  This is a show that I can unreservedly recommend to everyone. It’s good fun with a solid heart, and some great singers too. It’s going to sell out, so pick your date and grip your tix!  See you there.

Beauty And The Beast runs until Jan. 7 at the York Theatre (Vancouver) | TICKETS & INFO