The Wizard of Oz (Panto)
From the book by L. Frank Baum, adapted by Lorna Wright and Nicholas Hune-Brown
Directed by Tracey Flye
Musical direction by Steve Thomas
Choreographed by Mark Kimelman
Performed by Dan Chameroy, Jessica Holmes, Elicia MacKenzie, Yvan Pedneault, Ross Petty, Kyle Blair, Eddie Glen, Steve Ross et al.
The Elgin Theatre, Toronto
November 25, 2011 to January 6, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
“A Wickedly Wacky Family Musical”
If you’re a Wizard of Oz fan, you need to pay close attention to Ross Petty’s panto version, now on stage at Toronto’s Elgin Theatre. It strays away from L. Frank Baum’s book and wanders far from the Judy Garland movie version. It even makes the Broadway prequel, Wicked, seem ordinary.
Dorothy isn’t from Kansas anymore. In fact, she’s from Toronto – she’s a dedicated snowboarder and one tough girl who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Which makes it difficult to be carried away to the Land of Oz, but she is totally surrounded by fools.
Those fools include Air Farce’s Jessica Holmes as Splenda the Good Witch. Holmes is hilarious as the narrator/hostess with a speech impediment. She also showed her improv skills in the production I saw, when she had to deal with an extra child who arrived on stage uninvited.
On Dorothy’s arrival in Oz, she’s met not by Munchkins, but by Aussies, of course. (Turns out, the Munchkins are all the kids in the audience.) The Aussies, according to script, are just a bunch of ethnic stereotypes in the Land of Oz
This production has the tin man doubling as a miner who is also Dorothy’s love interest. For Toronto theatre fans, this reunites Elicia Mackenzie and Yvan Pedneault who starred together in Rock of Ages. Mackenzie became well known when she won the TV show “How do you solve a problem like Maria” and took the lead role in the Sound of Music. Pedneault starred in the Queen show, We Will Rock You.
Stratford actor Dan Chameroy reprises his role as Plumbum, a character he’s played in past pantos. Here Plumbum is Dorothy’s super cool Aunt, who is carried to Oz from Toronto in an outhouse. Another panto favourite is Eddie Glen who plays the Wizard. He’s a cross between Ozzy Osborne and Austin Powers, and as funny as Mike Myers.
Kyle Blair is a wonderfully brainless Scarecrow named Fig Newton. Blair delights with his shaky legs, tumbling about the stage while Steve Ross is excellent as the cowardly Lion.
The annual Christmas panto is the brain child of producer Ross Petty, who also plays the villain each year. The audience loves to hate him and he relishes the boos and hisses that come his way. Petty’s been putting on the panto for 16 years, taking a favourite familiar story, and making it strange and funny. This year, he is the evil Wicked Witch of the West, plotting and scheming against Dorothy.
Petty also gives more brand name promotion to their sponsors than most theatre productions. In fact, the shows characters promote the sponsors in filmed commercials that are projected on the big screen – and these are just as funny as the show. Aunt Plumbum and Dorothy go shopping at Sears with their Mastercard, and the Scarecrow and Lion spend the night in luxury at the Royal York. Later Eddie Glen explains how he makes a living delivering the Toronto Star between shows. Glen pitches the newspaper with great accuracy at the Wicked Witch. We also see Dorothy and her friends romping through Lowes as she plans her home renovations. Toto and the Lion enjoy a drink of water from the convenient Lowes toilet bowls.
The show includes absolutely none of the familiar Wizard of Oz songs, but instead the cast rocks out today’s pop music.
It’s a Toronto-based show and pokes fun at some Toronto icons. For example, when Mayor Rob Ford is carried away in a blizzard, the audience cheers — which begs the question: who voted for him anyway?
The panto is a family favourite, with lots of fun for the kids who get to yell out to Splenda the good Witch and boo at the Wicked Witch. Just enough slightly naughty jokes are included to keep the parents and grandparents laughing. Go for the corny jokes and don’t expect anything profound.
If you’re feeling confused and want to get back to the basics after seeing this version of Wizard of Oz, remember that the “real” story is on stage now in St. Jacobs.
The Wizard of Oz continues at the Elgin Theatre, Toronto until January 6. Tickets are available at www.ticketmaster.ca or by phone 1-855-599-9090.