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Burnaby, New West talents share holiday joy in livestreamed East Van Panto

Panto Come Home! features an all-star cast reprising some old favourites in a pandemic edition of the Cultch's holiday favourite
Theatre Replacement and The Cultch are teaming up for a pandemic edition of East Van Panto: a livestreamed Panto Come Home! from Dec. 17 to Dec. 27. Photo by Emily Cooper, courtesy The Cultch

If ever there was a holiday season in need of a little extra light and joy, it’s this one.

The Cultch and Theatre Replacement are doing their part by offering up a special edition of the perennially popular East Van Panto – in virtual, pandemically safe style.

Panto Come Home!, a livestreamed edition of East Vancouver’s much-loved holiday tradition, is running from Thursday, Dec. 17 to Sunday, Dec. 27.

The panto is the brainchild of Theatre Replacement’s artistic directors, James Long (from New Westminster) and Maiko Yamamoto (a Burnaby resident). They’re directing and also performing in this year’s panto.

“We love our East Van Panto,” Yamamoto said. “It is a production near and dear to our hearts, and this year it feels more important than ever.”

The Cultch and Theatre Replacement have partnered on the show since 2013. In any other year, they would have continued with business as usual – but, in 2020, that was not to be.

Instead, they had to find ways to bring the panto into the homes of the thousands of people who have made it their holiday tradition – and they decided to use it as a chance to meet audience demand.

“For years now, people have been asking us to revive old songs from the panto,” Yamamoto said in a press release. “And we’re going to do it this year. We’re going to do a best-of panto, so you can hear all of your favourite songs.”

In Panto Come Home!, Long and Yamamoto sneak into the York Theatre to find a sad, pyjama-clad Veda Hille at her piano. She has moved into the theatre and is trying to relive her old panto memories – so, to cheer her up, they call on a group of friends to sing and dance hits from past editions of East Van Panto.

But, naturally, it can’t all go smoothly. The Phanto of the Panto, who’s been watching things since Jack and the Beanstalk played eight years ago, has his own ideas about what should happen.

The show features the talents of a cast of stars from past years. Audiences will enjoy performances by Dawn Petten, Donna Soares, Amanda Sum, Shawn Macdonald and Mark Chavez in renditions of such favourites as The Cheese Song, Randolph the Average Reindeer and Souvenirs.

The fun is all choreographed by Burnaby’s Amanda Testini.

“Being part of Panto Come Home means finding a way to celebrate the vibrant East Van community, not taking ourselves too seriously, even in extraordinary circumstances,” Testini said. “It means resilience, play, fun and experimentation.”

For Long, bringing the East Van Panto back even in the face of the challenges posed by COVID-19 was an important task.

“The panto has meant so much to all of us at this company and the community,” he said. “It is our genuine hope we can bring as much communal joy as we can to people as they isolate.”

Performances will be streamed live from the York Theatre. Panto Come Home! opens in preview Dec. 17, with opening night on Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. Audiences can enjoy 7 p.m. shows on Dec. 19, 23 and 26, with 2 p.m. matinees on Dec. 19, 22 and 26 and noon matinees on Dec. 20 and 27.

Tickets start at $35. Call 604-251-1363 or buy online at the Cultch website.