TORONTO - The latest gonzo, kid-friendly holiday pantomime from Ross Petty could hardly be better-timed.
It wasn't enough that "Snow White: The Deliciously Dopey Family Musical" opens Friday at the Elgin Theatre with two films starring the alabaster maiden still fresh in audience's minds — "Snow White and the Huntsman" and "Mirror Mirror."
Somehow, Petty also found a way to shoehorn James Bond into the production, just as 007's sterling latest, "Skyfall," is lighting up cinemas around the world.
Former "Canadian Idol" winner Melissa O'Neil, cast in the lead role, had worked with Petty before in the 2010 production of "Beauty and the Beast," but she says there's just no getting used to collaborating with the Winnipeg-born theatre producer.
"Oh my gosh, you never know what you're going to expect working with Ross," O'Neil laughed down the line following rehearsals in Toronto.
"I don't think that show could have prepared me for this. At all."
O'Neil is coy with the details of the show, though she'll confirm that Petty plans to portray the show's villain while contributing his customary full-throated musical performance in drag, as usual — and this one, she says, will "bring the house down."
Petty's twisted Christmastime fairy-tale interpretations — which have previously cast the likes of pro wrestler Bret (The Hitman) Hart, ballet dancer Rex Harrington and figure skater Kurt Browning — are a favourite for kids, who are invited to participate in the raucous productions.
Petty encourages improvisation — sometimes even demands it, shifting the shows as he goes — so performers have to be quick on their feet, O'Neil says. When you combine the thrill of ad-libbing with the high-powered enthusiasm of the young crowd, she says it makes a Petty production a special job for an actor.
"There's not a better gig to have in Toronto over the Christmas season," said O'Neil, who will star alongside Graham Abbey and Eddie Glen.
"This is the best show to be doing. There's no where else you'll get paid to laugh as much as you do in rehearsals, and have a guy like Ross being your boss."
And when Glen launches into the show-opening narration, O'Neil says, she's just as captivated as the little ones in the crowd.
"I feel like I'm seven years old," said O'Neil, 24. "I'm absolutely enchanted and I'm stuck there, doe-eyed, my grin is as wide as the Cheshire Cat."