Maybe it’s the audience full of excited, chattering kids that somehow lowers my expectations, but every time I leave the Young People’s Theatre, I’m inspired and uplifted (and I haven’t spent $100 per ticket either).
And so it is again with The Wizard of Oz, a crowd-pleasing classic on stage until May 15 (you should probably stop reading this now and see if you can still get tickets). I mean, the talent on that stage and behind-the-scenes. This is a full-on musical with clever and exhausting choreography (Dayna Tekatch), beautiful musical arrangements for a small on-stage ensemble (Allen Cole), and even some panto-inspired moments from a scene-stealing Wicked Witch of the West (Amy Matysio). Ten actors portray 30 characters with the use of creative quick release costumes (Robin Fisher), masks and make-up.
But amidst all the action and singing and dancing, there is drama, and gosh darnit didn’t I find myself tearing up when Dorothy (the note-perfect Vanessa Sears) begs Auntie Em (Alana Hibbert) to help her keep her dog Toto safe, or learns the powerful lesson of what home really is.
This Royal Shakespeare Company production based on L. Frank Baum’s original book and the 1939 film clocks in at just 85 minutes, without an intermission. But it does include a number that was left on the editing room floor, The Jitterbug. The Wicked Witch unleashes one of her most potent critters on the intrepid foursome as they journey to Oz. The jitterbug renders you unable to stop dancing until you collapse. (This is the exhausting choreography to which I referred.)
Director Joey Tremblay and set designer David Boechler wanted to set this play firmly in Dorothy’s concussion-fuelled imagination. The farmhouse is full of the stuff of her dream: a toy lion, a scarecrow head, a pot belly stove with a kettle on top (aka the tin man). Even Toto transforms from a tail wagging puppet to a bi-ped (played by his puppeteer Nathan Carroll).
Cole’s musical arrangements are primarily for piano, violin and mandolin, but the banjo makes an appearance, the Wicked Witch plays the drums for one number and even Toto strums a guitar. It never sounds like a three-piece ensemble.
To get tickets, visit http://www.youngpeoplestheatre.ca