tee up piece for metro last week; you can read my review below or at halifax magazine's blog.
By Jon Tattrie
There was a moment early in Saturday’s opening performance of The Wizard of Oz where it looked like Toto, squirming in Dorothy’s arms like electrified jello, was about to slip free and run loose into the audience, bringing a crew of tin men, lions and witches chasing after him. That level of wild energy perpetually on the edge of control courses through the veins of Neptune Theatre’s stellar holiday musical as it dashes from showstopper to showstopper.
For those of you who have been living under a house for the past 100 years, let me recap. The action starts in Kansas circa 1900, when Dorothy (Blair Irwin) endures the ancient disadvantage of a child caught in a fight between adults and briefly loses Toto (Butch the Maltese/Yorkshire Terrier) to the wicked Miss Gultch (Laura Caswell). She runs away, encounters a strange man called Professor Marvel in the woods (Jeremy Webb) and then gets caught outside in a tornado. The winds whip her over the rainbow to the Land of Oz, where the most gangly and adorable batch of Munchkins urges her to follow the yellow brick road to meet the Wizard of Oz, who will surely solve her problems.
En route she picks up Scarecrow (Stephen Roberts), the Tin Man (Chris Zonneville) and the Cowardly Lion (Andrew Scanlon, chanelling Nathan Lane), and they are helped by the good witch Glinda (Margot Sampson) and hindered by the Wicked Witch of the West (Caswell, who regularly lets rip her marvelous, malevolent cackle).
If you have seen the classic 1939 movie, you know what you’re in for: belted out tunes like Over the Rainbow, If I Only Had a Brain and Ding Dong, the Witch is Dead. There is a gingham dress, ruby red slippers, a flying monkey and behind it all, a mysterious and apparently all-powerful wizard (Webb.) It’s better than TV in real life, though, due to the sizzling energy of the ensemble cast and the risks Neptune takes by using a real dog and real children. At times it feels like an actual high school musical that could careen out of control, but director George Pothitos manages to keep in on the leash.
For those of you attending under duress to delight your children and partners, read up on the Wizard of Oz as political allegory. At the time L. Frank Baum, a newspaper editor, wrote the book, the U.S. was in a bitter political battle over tying silver to gold for its monetary standard. Advocates said this would break the wicked power of the eastern bankers and alleviate the wicked grip a drought had on the west. Both sides abbreviated the measurement ounces as “oz” and in the novel, Dorothy’s shoes aren’t ruby: they’re silver. Industrial workers were frozen out of work by the 1893 depression (Tin Man), farmers struggled to make sense of it all (Scarecrow) while politicians saw the problem but lacked the courage to act (Lion). All answers lie in the Emerald City (Washington) and in the hands of the wizard (the president). To solve your problems, follow the yellow (gold) brick road, and to beat the western drought, grab a bucket of water.
For everyone else, get ready to go off to see the wonderful Wizard because, because, because – because of the wonderful things it does.
The Wizard of Oz is at Neptune Theatre until Jan. 9. Go to Neptunetheatre.com or call 429-7070 for tickets.