If you're off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz, just don't expect to hear that song. There's none of the usual over-the-rainbow business in Ross Petty's latest harebrained holiday pantomime.
Here, Dorothy and her straw, tin and leonine buddies groove down the Yellow Brick Road, singing, "Won't you take me to Funkytown?" And the Oz they are journeying through? It's full of lions and tigers and bears – and dingos. Oh my, indeed.
Lorna Wright and Nicholas Hune-Brown, the writing team behind 2010's bumpy Beauty and the Beast, have tightened up their spoofing skills for this year's panto based loosely – looser than a Value Village turtleneck – on L. Frank Baum's 1900 book.
They're especially in their element in early scenes set not in Kansas but downtown Toronto, where a snowboard-loving Dorothy (Elicia MacKenzie of How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria? fame) and her Aunt Plumbum (Dan Chameroy, making a very welcome return to Petty's crew) end up transported to Baum's fairy-tale land by a blizzard rather than a tornado. This sets off a succession of sight gags that culminate in a very creative crushing of the Wicked Witch of the East.
On her way to Emerald City, Dorothy falls for a fellow named Donny (Yvan Pedneault, her old love interest from Rock of Ages), who eventually transforms into the Tin Man. Kyle Blair and Steve Ross, of Stratford Shakespeare Festival past and future, are a lovable double act as the expected scarecrow and scaredy-cat, who play mainly to the kiddies.
Producer Petty is, of course, the other Wicked Witch. One imagines that, while he no doubt makes an excellent living off these seasonal shows, he would probably pay good money to put on a dress and be booed and hissed. His semi-improvised asides deserved genuine hisses – on opening night, they were far too self-referential and name-dropped too many of his famous friends. Most disappointingly, not one of them offended me this year.
Instead of the classic Harold Arlen/E.Y. Harburg songs famous from the 1939 movie, what we get here is the usual mix of songs that will alternately please and puzzle the grownups in the audience: Lady Gaga's Born This Way starts the show, while Selena Gomez's Everything is Not What It Seems and Shawn Desman's Night Like This get sung in vaguely congruous situations later on.
Safety Dance from Men Without Hats and Sweet Dreams were two tunes even I recognized without having to Google the lyrics.
Director Tracey Flye keeps the action moving at a swift pace (but for a sluggish stretch in the first act) while Marc Kimelman has a few moments of genius in his athletic choreography – notably when Dorothy and Donny take a ride around Oz on a pair of human bikes.
What doesn't work
Many of Wright and Hune-Brown's jokes are clever rather than funny in the second half, while Pedneault's powerful voice – used so effectively in We Will Rock You – is wasted on weak ballads. And Eddie Glen, a Ross Petty regular, seems to be Skyping it in as the Wizard.
What does work
Chameroy is pure pleasure as Plumbum, entertaining both the children with his perfectly executed pratfalls and the adults-in-name-only with his dumb double entendres. As the good witch Splenda, Jessica Holmes (when her staged speech impediment isn't obscuring her lines) proves funnier here than she was in the average Air Farce episode, particularly in her ad libs.
The money moment
The chase scene where the heroines and heroes end up hiding behind Christmas trees and shouting, "Run, forest! Run!" No holiday season is complete without that gag.
The Wizard of Oz
- Written by Lorna Wright and Nicholas Hune-Brown
- Directed by Tracey Flye
- Starring Elicia MacKenzie, Jessica Holmes and Ross Petty
- At the Elgin Theatre in Toronto
The Wizard of Oz runs at the Elgin Theatre until Jan. 6.