Ross Petty’s pantomime farewell checks all the boxes

Peter’s Final Flight! a fitting finale to panto rein

Peter’s Final Flight!
Where: Elgin Theatre, Toronto
What: Play
When: Now until Sat., Jan. 7
Genre; Pantomime
Why you should watch: It is what it is, as unapologetic as a drag queen. Brash, bawdy, corny, cliched, feel-good and funny, the last of Ross Petty’s 25 English-styled pantos is very similar to the first one — and that’s the point. Familiarity is part of the fun as the audience boos on cue, adults parse the dirty jokes and kids howl at the slapstick with a few life lessons in the loud and loveable mix.

This year’s latest edition of the Ross Petty-produced, English-style pantomime, Peter’s Final Flight!, a longtime Toronto holiday season family tradition, is as satisfying as the 24 annual productions that preceded it — and that’s kind of the point.

Audiences don’t come to the panto for innovation; it’s all about the fun of the familiar. And the only real questions to be brought to the production are: does it do all the usual stuff and does it do it well?

Booing on cue, heartily and lustily, at the appearance of bad guys? Check.

I-can’t-believe-they-just-said-that, bawdy double-entendre-laced dirty jokes? Check.

Somewhat dashing minor — very minor — celebrity lead (Alex Wierzbicki from YTV stars)? Check.

Incredibly flamboyant, laugh-loaded drag character named Plumbum? Check.

Insta-production number, singing and dancing extravaganzas of recent pop and rock hits? Check.

Adorable and wise, bad-guy sidekick delivering audience winks and wisecracks under their breath? Check.

And on and on — although the show isn’t going on and on anymore as Ross Petty, Mr. Karen Kain to some, is hanging up the panto and uses much of the current production to say farewell. Maybe too much for some though, at 25 years, Petty’s show has become a beloved local institution, and many of the young parents, with their own kids in tow, were likely childhood attendees of the show themselves.

And based on the reactions — the nonstop smiles, the laughs, the boos and the impassioned calls for the heroes to “look behind you” — the kids in attendance loved it.

The first chords of Metallica’s Enter Sandman propelling an early dance number in the show might be the first power chords some in attendance have ever heard live, creating a visceral thrill that runs through the crowd from the top of the show.

Some confusing, show-within-the-show plot devices are a little muddled, but the story, such as it is, is truly incidental. It’s all just an excuse for the panto standbys, including current topical references. The Greenbelt, Doug Ford and Elon Musk are all mentioned, and there are plenty of social media references and TikTok video allusions that show the writers aren’t befuddled by their cellphones.

The show’s only real misstep is when the female lead, Stephanie Sy, sings an adoring paean to “Peter Pan,” Letter to My Future Husband, that is so throwback gross in its fawning for The Man that one is convinced it’s all just a setup for an imminent blast of a Girl Power punchline. Sadly, the song is performed without irony and is a sad reminder of the kind of misogyny that populated popular productions from long ago that some of the great-grandparents in the crowd might remember. It should be cut from the show.

Overall, it’s a rollicking and satisfying end to Petty’s rein as Panto King. Hopefully, another producer picks up the panto tradition next year — perhaps Crow’s Theatre, who gets an “in association with” producers credit on the current show.