You can’t best Imaginary Beasts for sheer joy and inventiveness. You might say the foot is on the other shoe for IB’s mismatched mash-up of THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ, their Winter Panto 2016 playing at the BCA through Jan 30th. Matthew Woods plunders all (and there are many) Frank L. Baum’s OZ books for characters who didn’t make it in to the Judy Garland movie version. Then again, he plunders Judy Garland movies for songs which don’t belong, traditionally speaking, in the story. Now they do, along with a passel of songs from myriad sources including Edvard Grieg, which will have you giggling over the cheekiness of their choices. By the by, this is now my favorite version!
You can’t top their gender bending (which is typical of the British Panto): Joey Pelletier as Auntie Em, (who seems a lot like Dorothy for some reason and wears the ruby shoes), has the hots for the slightly flustered Tin Man (Nick Chopper). Amy Meyer as the charming scarecrow is smitten with Molly Kimmerling’s Patchwork Girl (Who isn’t? She’s adorable and spunky, to boot… and a feminist in her own right!) Woods himself gets to play the deliciously ferocious Wicked Witch of the West. And talk about bending, Michael Underhill is the (slightly sleazy) meandering Yellow Brick Road.
Bob Mussett takes the cake as all the (tall, small and in between) Munchkins, that is, when he’s not the royal historian. Patchwork Girl goes to great lengths to point out to him that for us women, it ought to be “herstory.” Thank you, Patchwork Girl. Now even though Pelletier wears the braids, the shoes and the blue checkered dress, there is a Dorothy, in kneepants, portrayed with immense earnestness, by Sarah Gazdowicz. William Schuller is hilarious as an erudite, philosophizing Toto. If only they would listen to him.
Elizabeth Pearson is the enormously resilient Wicked Witch of the East. Since Pantos require audience participation to be truly authentic, we have to keep reminding this witch of her demised status. The kids in the audience loved doing it. Kiki Samko, fluttering in and out with bubbles (and that wonderfully vague Billie Burke voice) is the always helpful Glinda (not really but we won’t go there. Gregory Maguire has taken her to task enough in WICKED.)
Cameron Cronin gets the plum role of the loveable Cowardly Lion and Mikey DiLoreto flies away as a winged monkey, via Noah Simes’ strong back. Everyone is resplendent in Cotton Talbot-Minkin’s extraordinary costumes (which put the movies’ duds to shame). She manages to fit personality into each and every stitch. Word to the wise: Don’t miss the Beasts’ magnificent, irreverent—and yet somehow faithful WIZARD OF OZ.