Cultural Narratives, Fairy Tales, Theatre!

In Praise of a Petty Children’s Show

(Apologies in advance for the inside jokes.)

People who have not lived in Toronto long may not know about one of the city’s most enduring Christmas traditions: the Ross Petty Christmas Pantomime. Ross Petty is the producer of said show and has been for years. Every show is a wacky variation on a fairy tale, rather like Fractured Fairy tales. In true pantomime fashion, the audience is invited to participate: the fourth wall is broken, questions are asked of the audience, pop-culture references are made, heckling of the show’s villain is strongly encouraged, and children are brought up on stage to aid the hero and so on.

This year’s show had something especially clever in the story. Something that made it relevant in a way that many fairy tale adaptations are not.

The fairy tale chosen for this year’s pantomime was Sleeping Beauty. Many of you are most familiar with the Disney movie version of the story. Disney is forever being accused of sanitizing fairy tales and in this case it’s true: the Disney adaptation of the story differs from either the Brothers Grimm version, Briar Rose, or Perrault’s version, Sleeping Beauty. But Perrault, Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm were all folklorists collecting traditionally spoken tales to create their respective volumes, Histoires ou Contes du temps passé, and Kinder und Hausmarchen. As I have said before, a story changes in the telling and this is especially true when a spoken tale is transferred to written or print form. The Grimms’ version removed any trace of adultery, cannibalism or- most importantly, rape -in their telling of the sleeping maiden story, first known as Sun, Moon and Talia. Disney is hardly the first to adapt a old tale to suit the current audience’s needs.

Script writer Jeremy Diamond has also made changes to Sleeping Beauty while adapting it to the pantomime stage. The tale follows much of the old material so as to be recognizable. There’s Princess Rose, who is kind and lovely but suffers a curse because her parents snubbed a powerful evil fairy. All spindles are banished from the land, followed by all other pointy threats…save the one that fells Rose. She falls into an enchanted sleep that can be broken only by True Love’s Kiss. Tragedy befalls the kingdom (of “Torontonia”).

What to do? The Queen wants to be “romantically efficient” by rounding up the local Princes (excluding Prince Harry who is absent due to being on a date with “the Girl From Suits”) and having them form a line to kiss the magically unconscious Princess Rose. The King is appalled by the idea. So is the Princess’s hopeful lover, Luke the Lovesick Lutist. When pushed, the young suitor responds:

“No! I’m not going to kiss her unless she wants me to!”

Instead, he enlists the help of the resident Good-Fairy-in-Training to help him get to Dream Land where he can find Rose so she can wake herself up. Thus, the Princess is not awoken by her Prince with a magical kiss…because he wants to be sure she actually wants said kiss first.

I wonder if the writer was asked to make this change or if the idea came naturally to him. Either way, it is a compelling innovation to a traditional story. Luke reinforces his intentions when he confronts the evil fairy who started it all.

“Step aside, (Villain) I’m here to kiss the woman I love…if she’ll let me.”

The lad’s hesitation comes across as somewhat comical, but the sentiment remains strong. He only wants to kiss Princess Rose if she wants him to kiss her. Only when she replies that she does want his kiss does the kiss occur.

Because Rose’s consent matters. It matters to her love interest. It matters to the story. And, it is implied, it should matter to the audience. Said audience is made up of families with young children.

All of the kids who saw Sleeping Beauty: The Deliriously Dreamy Family Musical learned that you only get to kiss people who want you to kiss them. No hero or princess would want to do otherwise- and neither should we. This adaptation that is a far cry from the story’s dark past and makes the tale relevant to its’ present day audience.

And it includes cross-dressing, pop music, dancing, guest star appearances, and an abundance of sass. Because that’s how you do musical theatre.

More info about the show can be found at: It will be playing until January 7th. Hope to see you there!



My favourite resource on fairy tales can be found here.