Wizard of Oz: The Panto

Let Dorothy and Her Friends Entertain You

Reviewed by Vicki Stokes

All is wonderful in the town of Bayfield for Dorothy and her friends (friends of Dorothy, if you will!) That is until Toto gets into mischief with the terrible Gulch. The adventure of this fun cast of characters is a must-see for families with children, but don’t be surprised if the audience is also filled with adults without families in tow, looking for a fun evening out. This panto version of Wizard of Oz is now open on the South Huron Stage at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend.  

Artistic Director Alex Mustakas stated that during the shutdown that the shows which were missed the most were the pantos. These are comedy shows that may feature a children’s chorus, as this one did, as well as men in drag, the use of double entendres and innuendo. They are designed for parents and grandparents to enjoy along with the kids. It’s quite telling, isn’t it? The current controversy over drag queens seems to be more of an invention than a reality, created by a certain political type. But we know which way the funnel-inducing winds of the panto tend to blow, considering there are jokes at the expense of Ron Desantis and Doug Ford.

With a panto, audience participation is encouraged. During regular musicals, it is considered rude to sing along with the performers. But if you are at a panto, the audience is chastised if it doesn’t boo loud enough or sing along! Although the traditional music of Wizard of Oz is wonderful, familiar Top 40 music of various eras is substituted to great effect. Near the end of the show, there is a call for a few children to join some of the characters on stage. It’s always fun to see the reactions of the children and the improvisations of the cast members during this time. Meanwhile, there’s a set change and/or costume changes going on backstage.

This panto mainly follows the traditional story of Dorothy landing in Oz, meeting the scarecrow, tin man, and lion and making her way to Emerald City. The differences are fun, with the addition of a new character named Harry Trotter, who pines for Dorothy, and instead of the traditional flying monkeys, there are influencers Tic and Tok, a reference to a certain video hosting service. Harry and the larger-than-life Auntie Em end up getting caught up in the storm as well, and join Tik and Tok on a hunt for Dorothy. 

The strong ensemble cast is full of familiar Drayton Entertainment regulars. Justin Bott is tremendous as Auntie Em. He is always exceptional at playing a woman, as is Billy Lake, who plays the wicked witch. These two are a pleasure to cheer and boo, and are Drayton favourites. They are able to improvise as needed, and I imagine that every show is a bit different, depending on the feedback from the audience. Tim Porter, another great improviser, plays Harry Trotter, an unfamiliar but endearing character in the Oz world. Tim Porter has extensive Drayton experience and is theatre director and writer for Tweed and Company.

Lia Luz is a cheerful, positive Dorothy. She handles the demanding singing, dancing and acting role with ease. Glamorous Glinda is played by Paige Foskett in her Drayton debut. In the interest of animal rights, Toto is a wonderful fluffy marionette, and his handler is a neutrally-dressed actor (Will Parry) you willingly accept. Teddy Moynihan, who was a cast member in the hilarious It Runs in the Family last year, is the flexible scarecrow. Will Jeffs, known at Drayton for his role in Mamma Mia!, is the spiffy Tin Man. And the lion is played by Grand Bend Beach favourite and Juno award-winning Stacey Kay. Since it is truly an ensemble cast, we only get a taste of her wonderful rapping and singing. The children’s chorus is a great addition to this panto, and I’ll bet opening night was filled with proud family members. There is a second chorus for alternate nights.

The costumes are fantastic and creative. The crows are slightly reminiscent of plague doctors with their large beaks. The tin man has a shiny silver shirt, tie and suit. The lion, referred to as she, has a full mane and swinging high tail.

A lot of credit needs to go to the totally unseen but powerful performers, the members of the band. They have to be prepared for anything and they do an excellent job of keeping the pace and playing all the lively music. They cover hits including “Celebration”, “Boogie Shoes”, “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go”, “Born This Way”, “Eye of the Tiger”, and “Raise Your Glass”. The direction and choreography are excellent, and the stage is often filled with action and dancing. There is plenty to look at while keeping an eye on Toto, who is always in the right place at the right time!

Will Dorothy recover from the Jitterbug curse? Will she make it back to Bayfield or will the wicked witch get her ruby sneakers? Will Harry suffer from unrequited love? Will the new friends of Dorothy receive the desired brain, heart, and courage? I recommend you go see Wizard of Oz: The Panto to find out the answers and to have a great time!

Wizard of Oz: The Panto continues until June 25 at the Huron Country Playhouse, South Huron Stage. Tickets are available by calling the Box Office at 519-238-6000 or Toll Free at 1-855-372-9866, or by checking www.huroncountryplayhouse.com for availability.

Photo: Will Parry, Will Jeffs, Stacey Kay, Teddy Moynihan, Lia Luz. Photo by Drayton Entertainment.

Wizard of Oz: The Panto
By E Houldershaw and S Cartwright
Directed and Choreographed by David Connelly
Musical Direction by Jim Hodgkinson
Performed by George Absi, Justin Bott, Dave Comeau, Paige Foskett, Kalie Hunter, Will Jeffs, Stacey Kay, Jade Kim, Billy Lake, Lia Luz, Tedy Moynihan, Will Parry, Stephanie Pitsiladis, Tim Porter, Ben Skipper
Produced by Drayton Entertainment
South Huron Stage, Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
June 7 to June 25, 2023
Review by Vicki Stokes

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