Petty's pantomime runs at Elgin Theater through Jan. 8
TORONTO — Some people may complain about the influence “American Idol” has had on the performance style of Broadway musicals, but in Canada, the effect is even easier to see.Every year, local actor/impresario Ross Petty mounts a successful Christmas pantomime at Toronto’s Elgin Theater; it opened Dec. 8 this year and runs through Jan. 8. These wacky free-for-alls are a shotgun wedding between the old-fashioned British panto tradition and an American variety show. Petty (who once starred opposite June Havoc in the road company of “Sweeney Todd”) usually shows up in drag as the villainess, surrounding himself with an assortment of high-profile names from TV, the recording industry and the Stratford and Shaw legit festivals. This year is the 10th anniversary of the series, and to freshen it up, Petty has noted the way the wind is blowing and cast four recent contestants from “Canadian Idol.” The Canuck version of the popular series is seen on the CTV network during the spring/summer season, when “American Idol” doesn’t air. This means Canadians get a virtually nonstop assortment of belting pop divas, and they love it, keeping both “Idol” shows in the top five Nielsen-rated programs year-round. Who is Ross Petty to ignore a marketing trend? His show this year is called “Snow White and the Group of Seven.” Instead of dwarfs (“They’ve all gone off to join ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ” quips one cast member), there’s a boy band with Snow White as its den mother and supergroupie. Snow White is being played by Elena Juatco, a finalist from the 2004 “Canadian Idol” competition; three of the boy-band members (Ryan Malcolm, Gary Beals and Billy Klippert) also are “Idol” alumni. Malcolm was the first person to win “Canadian Idol” in 2003, and has gone on to a successful recording career. So far, there’s no indication whether the “Idol” bunch will prove a more potent draw than previous kid-friendly entertainers like Fred Penner or stage names like Adam Brazier (currently on Broadway in “The Woman in White”). If it works, Petty may even contemplate stepping down to invite a villain even more hissable than he is. Simon Cowell in drag? The line forms to the right.
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