BWW Review: THE WONDERFUL WINTER OF OZ, Presented By The Lythgoe Family Panto, Scores Another 100% Entertainment Mark For The Holidays At Pasadena Civic Auditorium
This Past Sunday, December 23rd, 2018 was the perfect Christmas entertainment for so many families, including me, that was filled with fun before, during and after this fabulous show. If you haven't gone to see it, you still have this next weekend to experience a fun-filled pre-show, star-studded filled-with-fun and laughs performances including a special appearance by the one-and-only Kermit the Frog!
It is guaranteed to entertain and satisfy your entire family, especially children. It is the perfect way to enjoy a family outing for the Holidays.
Marissa Jaret Winokur was the ultimate Good witch, Glinda, in this reworking of the Oz legend turned Christmas tale complete with reindeer, good and bad witches, and all the beloved characters from Oz.
Mackenzie Ziegler stars as Dorothy, and more than fulfills expectations as the catalyst in this engaging tale. Her commanding presence defies her actual age, all of 14, and is perfect in every way. The rest of the talented cast includes Jared Gertner (Broadway's The Book of Mormon) as The Scarecrow, Phil LaMarr ("Mad TV" and "Pulp Fiction") as The Tin Man, Juan Pablo Di Pace ("Fernando" on Netflix's number one show Fuller House, and leading contestant this past season on ABC's Dancing With The Stars) as The Cowardly Lion, Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer (Nickelodeon's The Fresh Beat Band, "Cha Cha" on FOX's Grease: Live!, and the National Tour of In the Heights) as The Wicked Witch of the West, Hailee Payne and Valerie Rockey of So You Think You Can Dance, and Rescue Dog Pickle C. Irwin as Toto.
Written by Kris Lythgoe and Directed by Bonnie Lythgoe, it is extremely clever in the way it is assembled, weaving popular songs into the Oz framework, adapting everything Christmas to it, casting a multitude of wonderful entertainers, with energetic and sparkling choreography, goofy, clean and laugh-out-loud humor, and continuous audience participation that keeps everyone engaged and having just the best time.
Pre show, the Lobby was full of festivities to get the Christmas spirits flowing. Have your picture taken with Santa, face makeup and applications for the kids to don, a Santa's workshop where you could make toys and play inside, treats to eat, all made merrier by colorful Christmasy projections all over the walls. As the audience enters, there is a giant pipe organ on stage with a man playing Christmas carols and a beautiful scrim covering the stage painted with pink clouds and a huge rainbow.
The beginning announcement is made by Kermit the Frog, whom you only hear and do not see, yet. Glinda, the Good Witch, played ever-so-lovely and charmingly by Marissa Jaret Winokur, wearing a heavenly pink gown, a huge crown and wielding her sparkly wand, begins telling the tale when we first come upon the farm in Kansas, where they are having a good-ol' country rock-and-roll party goin' on. The entire ensemble breaks into a rollicking "Boot Scootin' Boogie" with high-energy dancing, acrobatics and loads of revelry. A lady fiddler gave a rousing authenticity to the number.
All the choreography throughout is so well done, so electric and mesmerizing, it brings the energy to a whole 'nother level, consistently, from the beginning to the end of the show. The Choreographers, the Nappytabs Team, namely Napoleon and Tabitha, did a sensational well-rounded job, utilizing so many different styles of dance, and hiring top-notch dancers of all ages that were technically proficient and pure joy to watch. Of particular note are Hailee Payne, who simply shines every moment and Valerie Rockey who's limitless energy pulls focus and spreads that energy throughout the house. Every dancer contributed to the wondrous feeling the audience felt watching them perform.
The music absolutely added to that energy, with outstanding arrangements by Musical Director Michael Orland, performing with his Band, with great aplomb. Each technical department did a superb job; the Lighting (Chris Wilcox), the Sets (Ian Wilson), the incredible Costuming (Albermarle and Michele Young) the Technical Direction (Phil McCandlish) and the Sound (Christian Rows), all coordinated expertly to make this production such a high quality, seamless extravaganza.
We meet Auntie Em and her farmhand, who has a great singing voice, who set up the scene and warn of a huge winter storm blowing in. They both crack lots of quick repartee and jokes and reference different areas, locations and street names in Pasadena that keep the audience laughing and involved.
The whole script is fast-paced and delivered without missing a beat. All of the actors are at ease and on top of it with the dialogue and lyrics, and there wasn't a one who didn't have a fabulous, strong voice.
A particularly adorable cast member is Pickle C. Irwin, who plays the perfect Toto. Right on cue, always in the right frame of mind for each scene, and never breaking character. His Bio explains that he is a rescued dog, from nearby Burbank Animal Shelter, and absolutely cannot resist bacon. He has a bright future ahead of him!
Toto runs off, and as the storm approaches, Dorothy goes to find him, ending up, which we find out later, in Munchkinland, where she comes to and finds Toto right by her house that has blown away from Kansas to land here, seeing it has smashed a Wicked Witch in the process. Of course we see her striped-stockinged legs and those shimmery shoes sticking out from under, which is explained to Dorothy by Glinda, who appears and summons out the Munchkins. The dancers, with bright colorful outfits on, do another great dance number to "Boogie Wonderland," and Glinda waves her magic wand to give Dorothy the "Power of Veto," has her put on the magic slippers, and tries to confer with the Wizard, but all she gets as feedback is Siri's voiceover, answering only as she can, to give directions to Emerald City. As Dorothy starts to leave on her journey to Emerald City, a Wicked Witch, sensationally portrayed by Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, with a most powerful singing voice flies in, lamenting her dead sister, vowing to put a spell on Dorothy, which she tries, but has no luck, since Glinda has already given Dorothy that handy "Power of Veto."
Glinda sends Dorothy on her way, reminding her to say her name three times if she needs help getting to Oz. She sings a marvelous rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone," in a full-out belt that brings down the house. Meanwhile, the Wicked Witch plots her revenge against Dorothy, singing "Whatever It Takes," a wild number she performs with much fervor and gusto, also belting out the tune.
One by one, Dorothy meets the friends that will make the journey to Oz with her, so she can ask the Wizard to send her back Home. The Scarecrow, played hysterically by Jared Gertner, with an overload of personality and vitality, sings "I'm On Top of The World," with Dorothy, as he is so excited to acquire some brains from the Wizard.
The Tin Woodman, Phil LaMarr, an excellent actor, singer, dancer with a slew of credits from theater, television, voiceover work and film, whom I remember vividly as "Cowboy Curtis" on "Pee Wee's Playhouse," is discovered desperately needing to be oiled, so Dorothy and The Scarecrow find an oil can, which they take out into the audience and give to a little girl, who gets to come up on stage every time he needs another oil fix. This just adds to the merriment and fun the audience is having. He now joins Dorothy and The Scarecrow to ask for a heart that he was never given when he was built.
The Lion, in another outstanding, brilliant performance by Juan Pablo Di Pace, sings "Hold The Line," strutting about trying to act brave, outlandish and scary, although every other minute he is shaking, cowering in fear and running to hide, speaking in a thick, comical Latin accent about his lack of Courage. Once he warms up to the others he goes into a show-stopping performance, swinging his tail, using it as a mic, dancing like a rock star, swaying those hips, getting' down, funky and loose, soulfully deepening his voice and finishing the number, only to run off stage, claiming "I'm not a Social Lion," "I'm a Vegan," until they surround him, petting, soothing and cuddling him.
Next they encounter the "Jitterbugs," sent by the Wicked Witch to torment our travelers, dancing around them using capes extending out from their unitard attire to surround them and cast an evil spell that will force them to not be able to stop dancing, as The Lion sings a great version of "Karma Chameleon." They work their magic, and as the four of them quickly run out of steam, but can't stop dancing, Dorothy remembers to call out "Glinda" three times, who comes to their rescue, waving her magic wand, breaking the spell.
The Wicked Witch makes another appearance, being booed and yelled at by the audience, as she weaves through the seats in the house, cackling and vowing her revenge.
Finally reaching Emerald City, it is appropriately completely green, shimmering everywhere in green glitter. Two inhabitants, decked out in green from head to toe, meet them at the entrance, who are guards for the Wizard. When they first see The Lion, they are scared, but Dorothy convinces them not to be... "He's just a big kitty," and introduces her friends and explains their mission. After they talk up the Wizard, they agree to take them to see him, and lead the way into Emerald City.
When they hit the town, there is an Irish tap dance being done by the Townfolk, a la "RiverDance" decked out in green and more green, and might be my favorite production number of the evening. Excellent, precise and technically difficult, it was absolutely splendid. Again, the energy level was through the roof.
At the Wizard's door, they are greeted by a puff of smoke, the door opening to reveal a very scary, very green huge devil-face and a booming voice coming from within that bellows at them one by one, belittling them and making fun of their reasons for coming all that way. The Lion, in particular, is so scared, he stutters and stammers, not able to get a word out, as The Wizard taunts him, "Cat got your tongue?"
He agrees to grant their wishes only if they kill the Wicked Witch and bring back the proof. Ending Act One, the four of them sing "Don't Stop Believing," as the dancers dance vigorously, unfortunately behind them, making it hard to see the wonderful choreography and agility of the performers.
Act Two opens up in the Wicked Witch's Castle, her on her glamorous purple throne, surrounded by her flying monkeys that she will send to capture Dorothy and friends. She sings "Natural" as the monkeys do a very athletic number, going out into the aisles of the theater playing with and hovering over the audience. Right into a second number, "Paint it Black," she plays a wicked violin solo in between the vocals, as she releases her monkeys on their mission. She is determined to destroy them all, including Emerald City and Munchkinland.
Captured, Dorothy, her friends and Toto are about to be destroyed, as the Wicked Witch stirs her cauldron, conjuring up another spell, making Dorothy unable to say the third "Glinda," and mocking and insulting each of them. Dorothy gets so furious, she breaks free and grabs some water, throwing it on the Wicked Witch, causing her to rapidly melt, leaving only her hat behind.
Back in Emerald City, the two green guards are taking selfies of themselves, giggling and acting mighty silly. When Dorothy and entourage show them the witch's hat, the whole town erupts in celebration, chanting"The Wicked Witch is Dead!," dancing and singing to "Dancing in the Street," doing an even more joyous dance routine, if that's even possible, than before. The energy was electric coming from these fabulous dancers. What a high! They went out into the audience and got many audience members up on their feet to dance with them.
Once again, in front of the Wizard's door, he is refusing to see them, saying "Come back tomorrow!"
The Lion becomes furious, and as they all stand there in disbelief, all of a sudden they see a lighting and sound board atop a large square box that says Oz on the front, and Kermit the Frog sitting on top, yelling into a microphone with an amplifier attached to it.
Sheepishly, he tries telling them fake stories about himself which no one believes, finally admitting he's been there for ten years, ever since the real Wizard left, trying to "fill in" until his return, which never came to pass. He jokes with them about it not being easy being green, explaining that is why Emerald City is what it is.
Glinda appears to explain to them that they already have what they were wishing for, but Oz needed someone to destroy the evil Wicked Witch, so that all would be safe in Emerald City and Munchkinland.
Glinda and Kermit sing "Rainbow Connection" together as The Scarecrow, The Lion and The Tin Woodman realize they can be anything they want to be, even a rocket scientist at JPL, states the Scarecrow; Dorothy clicks those heels three times and Glinda sends for a hot air balloon to take her back home, giving a ride to Kermit who wants to return to, yep, that's right: Pasadena!
A happy ending, but wait! The Scarecrow announced there would be a Sing-Along of Christmas songs that he would emcee, bringing a whole line of children up from the audience, interviewing each one on a microphone, asking them questions about themselves and making silly jokes, putting them all at ease so that when the sing-along began, with the whole audience joining in, each child got to sing a solo line into the mic, receiving gifts as they exited the stage.
It was truly fun for all, and a wonderful show, which I'm hoping will return for many Christmases to come!
The show continues through this weekend, the last performance being December 30th, 2018.
Photos courtesy of Philicia Endelman