It is the end of an era. The aptly titled, Peter’s Final Flight!, is the latest and very last Ross Petty pantomime. It seems a particularly cruel twist of fate to have this Toronto holiday tradition end just as I had properly discovered it! After many years of gently scoffing at those super cheesy posters on the subway, I saw my very first (Lil’ Red Robin Hood) just before the pandemic hit and fell head over heels for its goofball charms. As a bittersweet bonus, Ross Petty himself is back on stage for this send-off. He plays both himself and the late Captain Hook—long since swallowed by a crocodile, but offering spectral guidance to his wife Helga Hook (Sara-Jeanne Hosie) and the side-kicking, Smee (Eddie Glen). I’m particularly fond of Hosie and Glen’s bickering, codependent dynamic. I’m sad I’ll never again hear her “SHUUUUUT UUUUUUP!” to our chorus of enthusiastic Boos.
We open on the bedroom of Wendy and her siblings, just as Peter Pan (Alex Wierzbicki) arrives, flying through the window on a wire. Very early on, the self-referential, meta-theatrical vibe is established as we discover that this is just a rehearsal for a production of Peter Pan that has just been derailed by a missed cue. The culprit: Wendy (Stephanie Sy), who was on her phone, frantically live-posting her status and maintaining her social media presence.Social media obsession plays a big part in Matt Murray’s script. The mermaids—image-obsessed Kar-splashians, draped extravagantly in Ming Wong’s sequin-scaly outfits, and sporting over-the-top pretensions—are a satirical highlight. There are plenty of other pop culture references, of course—some very Toronto-specific jokes and a few playful jabs at the Canadian theatre scene. The Roger’s outage even gets a nod! The actor Peter get’s mistaken for the actual Peter Pan and is whisked away to Neverland by our fabulous stalwart Plumbum (Dan Chameroy). In a cute running gag, she’s always trying to correct people who keep calling her “Tinkerbell.” True to form, many scenes open with her ending some long-winded story with a hilariously cryptic, innuendo-laden capper—no context, of course; that’s left to our imaginations. Anyway… the Lost Kids need Peter’s help to prevent Helga and Smee from destroying the Heart of Neverland. What the heart turns out to be is a sweet surprise! They, of course, succeed and lessons are learned along the way. As the tale unfolds, director/choreographer Tracey Flye delivers spectacular musical numbers (both contemporary and throw-back). These are set against Cameron Davis’s stunning projected scenery that immerses us in colourful dreamscapes that seem surprisingly grounded. Even as flamboyant buffoonery abounds, it always feels tethered to the spirit of J.M. Barrie’s classic. One of my favourite bits is a cheesy, slumber party musical number where Wendy reveals to Peter her girlhood crush on him. (He’s a heart-throb celebrity from an in-world sitcom). And those pillows with his face plastered on them just sent me! Everyone, across the board, from the background ensemble to the core panto team are bursting with charisma and a genuine rapport with the audience—specifically the kids. When the time comes to save Plumbum (in full, tragic Tinkerbell mode), the audience must work together to revive her by cheering her on. It’s all about giving yourself over to childhood wonder and a belief in magic. I really wish I had discovered this particular bit of Toronto theatrical magic earlier. It is amazing to me how thoroughly bonded I feel to these long-time collaborators after having seen only two productions. The decades-long history is palpable, though, and just fills the Elgin up with intense mutual affection. Truly, it would be a shame to miss this one. Bring a friend who needs some cheering up. Bring some kiddos. It’s a funny, often breathtaking, thoroughly delightful show! And it’s nice to have the chance to say a proper goodbye. I’m certainly going to miss this.