Forget the re-runs of the MGM movie that you normally find floating around the dial of your television set this time of year because Carousel Theatre’s family-friendly The Wizard of Oz is as much fun as its more famous cousin.
Producing an entertaining and engaging evening of this iconic story is no easy feat, but to do it as director Carole Higgins has done with its tiny cast of ten and on the even tinier Watefront stage is nothing short of a Christmas miracle.
That, of course, isn’t to say the grandness of the familiar story is lost. We still have the tornado that whisks Dorothy and her dog Toto to the Land of Oz. but in Higgins’ version this is done through dance rather than any over-the-top special effects. The yellow brick road becomes a series of projections that crisscross the stage floor and even the forest and the poppies that are nearly Dorothy’s downfall get their own special brand of Higgins magic.
With the inevitable comparisons to the actors of the film version, each of this capable cast manages to pay homage to these familiar characters without imitation. As Dorothy, Robyn Wallis is more than willing to play the comic foil to her travel companions and manages a perfect balance of sweetness and strength. Josue Laboucane is so enchanting as the Cowardly Lion that it is no wonder the youngsters gravitated to him in such numbers after the show. Darren Burkett gives his Scarecrow the right amount of rubbery movement with the occasional aside that belies his lack of a brain and while Mike Stack may not have had the same vocal abilities as his companions, he nails the awkwardness of the man made from tin.
But it is Meghan Anderssen (pictured right in a photo by Tim Matheson) who steals much of the show. From her entrance on her bike as Miss Gultch through to her inevitable demise, Anderssen is so playfully scary that it isn’t hard to see why the younger of kids in the audience would be both frightened and attracted to her at the same time. Her Elphaba inspired ending of “The Jitterbug” was all too fleeting, but for us older audience members it was a welcome addition.
Among the smaller roles, Timothy E. Brummund performs such wonderfully comic vocal gymnastics as the Oz Guard and a Flying Monkey that he brought down the house and the early scene with the entire cast playing Munchkins is laugh-out-loud funny.
The familiar (and perhaps not so familiar) songs are handled with great élan and even though it is only musical director Steven Greenfield on piano we never miss the fuller sound. Barbara Clayden’s costumes are as gorgeous as they are creative and choreographer Melissa Young is equally creative, even managing to give the cast a real workout in the hilarious Munchkin scene. Not to be outdone, set designer Heidi Wilkinson brings wonderful moveable set pieces representing the various locales, all lit by Jeff Harrison’s sparkly hues.
So grab your ruby slippers, tap your heels together three times and let this delightful production transport you and your family over the rainbow this holiday season.
By L. Frank Baum. With music and lyrics by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Directed by Carole Higgins. A Carousel Theatre for Young People presentation. On stage at the Waterfront Theatre through December 31, 2011. Visit http://www.carouseltheatre.ca for tickets and information.