Soap stars dressed as princesses, comics in fluorescent Lycra leggings and choruses of boos and hisses – it can mean only thing. Oh yes! Pantomime season is back.
The curtain has come up on this year’s festive offering, Sleeping Beauty – and bosses at the Grand Theatre in Wolverhampton have promised a treat for all the family.
It has been almost 40 years since Sleeping Beauty last hit the Grand in Lichfield Street.
Funnyman Joe Pasquale leads the cast as lovable jester Muddles in his first pantomime appearance in the city since he starred in Peter Pan 17 years ago.
The show also stars former Coronation Street actor Lucy Evans as Princess Beauty and flamboyant drag artist Ceri Dupree as Princess Passionella.
The cast of 16, which features eight principal actors and eight dancers, started rehearsing for the show in London in late November before moving up to the Newhampton Arts Centre in Whitmore Reans at the start of this week for two nine-hour sessions.
In the last three days cast and crew have been busy making final preparations on stage at the Grand in an effort to ensure the well-established show goes by without a hitch.
The show also features 16 children from local schools who will take the stage in groups of eight on alternate performances.
As is the tradition with the Grand’s panto, last night’s show was an open dress rehearsal, with an audience of more than 1,000 who applied to local charities for tickets packing into the theatre.
Staff from Dudley Zoo were also on hand to entertain younger theatre goers with face painting gear and a selection of small animals including owls, lizards and ferets.
Production manager Bob Holmes said this version of the pantomime, which is produced by Yorkshire-based firm Qdos Entertainment, had a shorter rehearsal period than most other productions.
“The show has been established for more than five years, so it is pretty much smooth sailing once we start rehearsals,” he said.
Behind the scenes a stage and production crew of 12 have spent 60 hours in the run up to curtain-time making sure the sets, scenery and lighting match up to audience expectations.
Panto veteran Dupree, who turns 50 in January, is aiming to live up to his reputation as the world’s most glamorous diva by showing off a spectacular array of dresses, many of which he designed himself.
After spending 90 minutes in the make- up chair prior to each performance, the erstwhile performer will undergo 12 costume changes during each show.
One of the outfits was worn by Danny La Rue in a 1969 production of Sleeping Beauty at London’s Saville Theatre and was gifted to Dupree before his death in 2009.
Dupree has promised audiences a sensational ending to the evening, with his finale dress costing more than £5,000 and featuring hundreds of individually-sewn red beads which together weigh more than 50lbs. Staff at the Lichfield Street theatre started preparing for opening night back in January, while the excitement started to reach fever pitch when the show was officially launched in June.
And earlier this week the venue announced advance ticket sales had topped 43,000, with punters still besieging the venue to secure their seats.
Kate Evans, spokeswoman for the Grand, said: “Ticket sales have been fantastic so far. We are expecting to at least match the figure who attended last year.”
“This is an all year round effort from everyone here at the theatre, from organisers, ticket sellers, to staff who help with setting up the stage.
“It is fantastic to finally get the show up and running and I am sure audiences are in for a real family treat.
“This has been a successful year for the theatre, with Ghost and Cats proving to be big hits with audiences, and the pantomime is the perfect way for us to kick off our Christmas season.”
Sleeping Beauty runs at the Grand Theatre until January 18, 2014.
For info and tickets visit: www.grandtheatre.info