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vancouverplays review


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— The Wicked Witch of the West - Meghan Anderssen

By L. Frank Baum
Music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg
Carousel Theatre for Young People
Waterfront Theatre
Dec. 7-Jan. 6
$29/$25/$15 or 604-669-3410

Follow the yellow brick road down to Granville Island this holiday season for big fun with Carousel Theatre’s The Wizard of Oz. This classic tale has lost almost none of its punch over the years, and Carousel’s colourful, full-bodied production makes it come alive all over again.

Back when my kids were little, I used to take them to a show like this and get their opinions for my review. With them now grown up and out of the house I have to make do with eavesdropping on the 4-year-olds-and-up (no tiny ones allowed) who make up about half the Carousel audience. They are very astute critics, these kids, and aren’t shy about making their views known to the parents and grandparents who accompany them. They’re also remarkably attentive.

According to my utterly unscientific poll on the night I attended, their favourites were Toto, Dorothy, and the cowardly lion in that order. Cynical adult that I am, I had a thing for the Wicked Witch of the West. The lion got the biggest laughs along with the munchkins.

Robyn Wallis plays Dorothy with just the right combination of girlishness and spunk. Her rendition of “Over the Rainbow” is all right, although her little voice sometimes sounds too little. She skillfully manipulates adorable hand-puppet Toto, which deserves all the raves it gets from the kids.

There’s good chemistry and variety among Dorothy’s companions. Flopping around the stage as Scarecrow, Darren Burkett is a strong singer and dancer who makes “If I Only Had a Brain” one of the show’s best numbers. Mike Stack’s stiff, rusty Tin Man provides nice contrast. Allan Zinyk, one of the city’s funniest actors, doesn’t disappoint as the lion, who imagines himself King of the Forest but is scared of his own shadow.

I sense that the kids admire goody-good witch Glinda (Janet Gigliotti) because they know they are supposed to. But the Wicked Witch is a way juicier part, and Meghan Anderssen takes advantage to steal quite a few scenes. Greg Armstrong-Morris has fussy fun doubling as Professor Marvel and the Wizard.

An amusing chorus shows up as dancing peppers, apple trees, and poppies (Kayla Dunbar and Christine Quintana, sometimes joined by Anderssen or Timothy E. Brummond). Two dancers along with Jeff Harrison’s swirling lights and some slashing piano from Patrick N. Ray create the tornado effect.

Director Carole Higgins carefully modulates the scary parts—witch, tornado, flying monkeys—to ensure their theatrical effectiveness but not terrify the little ones. The same is true of the wall through which the angry Wizard speaks with Brummond’s amplified voice. The carved face that moves and flashes lights is the cleverest of Heidi Wilkinson’s otherwise simple, functional set pieces.

Barbara Clayden has created dozens of utterly fantastic costumes, none more so than those of the munchkins. At one point nearly all the actors but Wallis come out wearing munchkin suits, which make them all about three feet tall. They are obviously on their knees but the amazing costumes, including tiny shoes, somehow mask that fact no matter how hard you look. It’s impossible not to giggle in amazement, and when the munchkins dance to Melissa Young’s choreography, not to roar.

The end of the play seems a little archaic as Dorothy welcomes her return to the farm in rural Kansas (where nasty Miss Gulch still wants to put down sweet Toto), reminding us of the story’s 1900 Americana origins. Well, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore, but pop on your ruby slippers anyway, head on down to the Waterfront Theatre, and enjoy the wizardry.            

Jerry Wasserman