imaginary beasts’ ‘Wizard of Oz’ A Delight (4.5 Stars)

 

‘The Wonderful Wizard of Oz’ - Written byMatthew Woods & The Ensemble; Directed by Matthew W. Woods; Costume Design by Cotton Talbot-Minkin; Lighting Design by  Christopher Bocchiarro; Sound Design by Matthew Woods & Deirdre Benson; Set Design by Candido Soares. Presented by imaginary beasts at the Plaza Black Box Theatre at the Boston Center for the Arts, 539 Tremont Street, Boston through January 30 

 

The imaginary beasts troupe, who have delighted audiences year after year with their Winter Panto shows – have the art of Pantomime down to a tee.  With first-rate acting, singing, puppeteering, audience interaction and topical jokes, this group will take you on a journey through Oz like never before. The show begins with the narrator (Bob Mussett) – aka The Royal Historian & All Whom it Entails, who opens with a reading of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz from the very beginning in Kansas - and then the re-invention begins. The Royal Historian pops in and out of scenes throughout, (and also doubles as all, and I mean ALL, of the Munchkins – an impressive feat for a man of his stature – which he handled with comic ease).

 

A panto, for the uninitiated, is a re-imagining of a traditional fairy tale, and each actor brought fresh shadings to the familiar characters for this edition. Sarah Gazdowicz plays Dorothy as a fresh faced innocent with a cute country lisp, and she was a delight.  Unlike a traditional MGM Dorothy, there was not a hint of sadness in her portrayal – which worked perfectly for the show.  Her dog Toto, (played by William Schuller) is cute and comedic, the human embodiment of a life-sized Cairn Terrier. As Glinda, the Good Witch of the North, Kiki Samko literally tiptoed through her performance with grace, lightening every scene with her bubble wand, pink dress and high pitched voice.

 

Scraps – the Patchwork Girl of Oz (Molly Kimmerling) appears in nearly every scene, and keeps the audience well connected to the action.  The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion (portrayed respectively by Amy Meyer, Michael Chodos, and Cameron Cronin) did double duty as farmhands and were a sidesplitting comedy trio. The farmhand scene was particularly witty, and executed with perfect comic timing. Their performance deftly set the stage for the Yellow Brick Road (played enthusiastically by Libby Schap, who has a real kick in her step), who brings our friends to the Wizard, in a nice addition to the traditional telling of the tale.  Schap also dazzled the audience with her keen puppeteering skills in later scenes.

 

At the performance I attended, Michael Underhill was the stand in for Auntie Em – and he stole the show.  His gender switch was hilarious and at times he had fellow cast members cracking up on stage, which in turn, had the audience following suit.  Watching the fellow cast members have fun only enhanced the entire experience for the audience. 

 

Oz wouldn’t be the same without some evil witches, a winged monkey (Mikey DiLoreto) and a Capt. Of the Winkie Guard (Noah Simes) to draw boos and hisses from the participating audience. And the evil Wicked Witch/Miss Gulch as portrayed by Matthew Woods (who also wrote and directed) was priceless.  I looked into the playbook to see if it truly was a man or woman playing the role, as he was that convincing.

 

The start of Act 2 (complete with the audience inclusion in Emerald City), included complimentary “emerald green” glasses to don, and was a musical delight.  With Act 2 came more topical jokes, including a very funny Ruth Bader Ginsburg reference.  A second well-known musical number had everyone singing along.

 

The set is sparse but imaginative, and includes a few double hinged doors that act as props, enabling dramatic set switchovers, as well as a being a terrific hideaway for character switches.  It was nicely done and allowed for much imagination on the part of the audience.  It wasn’t distracting or a nuisance, it was quite helpful for one to feel a part of the set in this small, comfortable theater.

 

The two hour-plus show was never slow, despite being complex, and had many laughs. I highly recommend it, because it is pure entertainment. Kitschy at times, downright corny at others, but I have to admit – I walked to my car with a skip in my step, singing a tune in my heart.  I felt happy.  This is a show that will warm a cold winter night from the inside out and have you walking around happy. For more info, go to: www.imaginarybeasts.org.