Steven Stead is celebrated for his directing and writing prowess in the theatre world. With years of experience – that’s not forgetting his time in London – he is not only mindful of producing a play that has entertainment value, he is renowned for his painstaking attention to detail to ensure every stage production remains a visceral experience.
Puss in Boots is no exception to this high standard he holds himself to, with Greg King overseeing the design.
And he has secured a coup with the talent he bagged: Earl Gregory as the lead, Ilse Klink as the good fairy Calypso Honeybunch, Michael Richard as the evil, shape-shifting goblin wizard Grimsby Withergood, Sean John Louw as the miller’s unlucky son, Tom Marzipan, and Darren King as Mother Merry Marzipan.
Zak Hendricks, Londiwe Dhlomo-Dhlamini, Yamikani Mahaka-Phiri and Caitlin Kilburn are cast as Puss’s friends.
When Tonight chatted to Stead, he said, with unmistakable excitement: “Puss in Boots is the 10th pantomime we (meaning his co-owned production company KicksArt) have produced (and I have written). It came up as a possible subject after having done all the big ‘girls’ fairytales like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White.
“We wanted to do an anarchic adventure-filled panto with a male hero, and when we asked our friends’ children which story they would most like to see on stage, Puss in Boots came up again and again. And I liked the opportunities for fun with all Puss’s rather devious tricks, and the possibilities for visual magic with ogres and such.”
With the movie popularising the character of Puss, he explained how he developed the character for the pantomime.
He said: “I have given a nod to the film by making Puss a Mexican cat of Spanish descent, with an accent not very far from Antonio Bandera’s fabulous feline. He is far cleverer than most of the human beings in the story, especially his owner, the rather dopey Tom Marzipan.
“In the film, Puss is a bit of a loner, but in my version he is part of a bigger community who all live on the enchanted Caribbean island of Esperanza.”
On the casting, he noted: “This is the first time we are bringing one of our pantomimes to Gauteng. And so we wanted the strongest cast possible. Darren King, who has been in every one of our pantos, played the dame nine times. He will be playing a rather delicious village baker, Merry Marzipan, Tom’s long-suffering mother.
“I needed a strong singer/dancer for the role of Puss. And, having worked with Earl Gregory on Sweeney Todd, I knew that he was the right person to fill those big boots with his chocolatey voice and winning smile.
“Then, no panto is complete without a memorable villain to boo. I have created a rather grand and self-important megalomaniac sorcerer, Grimsby Withergood, to fit the bill. I wanted a great actor with status and masses of experience for this very important role, and having worked with acting legend Michael Richard on several wonderful projects, I was convinced he was the ideal person.
“As his opposite, and nemesis, I needed a very strong and glamorous lady to play the good fairy, Calypso Honeybunch, and Ilse Klink with her wealth of experience, wonderful singing voice and warm stage presence is ideal in the role.”
Currently in New Zealand wrapping up a musical tour, Gregory says working with Stead has been on his bucket list.
He explained: “His work has always had a very distinct style with an edge that I haven’t really seen in this country.”
Although he has yet to find his rhythm as Puss, he said: “I am beyond excited to be diving into this role I can’t say how I will execute the role as I am yet to discover the character of ‘Juan Felix Hermoso Panthero de Gato del Angel-brujo’ (Puss), but I will put my own stamp on this well-loved character.”
* Puss in Boots, The Lyric, June 30 to July 23. R150 to R260 through Gold Reef City Box Office and Computicket.