The Blizzard of Oz: British Panto geared for winter in Ottawa, is back!!
Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht
January 7, 2017 Saturday at 11:41 pm
Photo, Andrew Simon. After the show with the audience!
This time the choreography is slicker (with such numbers as Gotta Get Home, Steppin’ Time and Popular) the singers feel more confident, the acting is top notch, the writing takes the young and less young into account and the audience is perfectly integrated to the point where it knows its lines ahead of the performers!! Oh yes, Panto has come of age at the Gladstone and it was the greatest of pleasures to see this vibrant and bouncy cast, under the direction of Ken MacDougall, hit the spot, with the small tots, the parents and the grannies alike. They all yelled, booed and shrieked when the wicked green witch slid into view with her the broom and her shifty snake-like eyes, or the snow monster loped across the stage. Such vile creatures, but such fun.
The story of Blizzard of Oz is similar to the Wizard version except that the tornado becomes a giant snow storm , and it all takes place right in the Ottawa area. The storm strikes the town of Ozaboza (Cazabazua ??), where Aunty Hem (a revamped Cara Pantalone with a gorgeous head of tangled red curls and most beautiful voice) and her strong willed niece Dotty (played by a feisty little Émilie O’Brien) live on their 150 year old farm…exactly the age of Canada…what a coincidence!! . Dotty is transported away by the storm into the middle of Ottawa where she meets other displaced persons : the Faircrow, Bob cat and Al Loy – the tin fellow who has the heart of pieces of money. From then on their only desire is to get home..wherever that might be.
In the meantime they get caught up in local politics (a shirtless Trudeau has his day), in neighborhood squabbles, in urban problems and lots of exciting things that are set to musical numbers borrowed from the musical Wicked…perhaps also from the original performance of Somewhere over the Rainbowe by that wonderful Hawaian singer Israel “Iz” with new lyrics, thanks to the new arrangements by Paul Legault , the music and lyrics for two numbers: “Home” and Cold Hands Warm Hearts” by Jonathan Evans and the work of the three musicians placed strategically on stage. Also there were excellent confrontations between the two sisters – the famous Dame of the Panto, Glenda the Good (Constant Bernard) owner of the Ruby Slipper, that den of iniquity and harmless fun on the Preston strip, and Wanda the Wicked…(Shelley Semester), the witch who wants to close down all the businesses so she can buy them all. Thus the two most theatrically powerful figures in the show are constantly facing off in public and once they meet on stage, you can’t watch anyone else. The two of them are dynamite!
Constant Bernard with the long curly blond hair, the fluffy fairy like blue dress with layers and layers of tulle, golden crowns in her hair, exploded with personality and musical talent. Blues, rock, a voice that roared and shifted from one style to the next with quips and an outpouring of off the cuff remarks and comic one liners (spontaneous or not. Who cares) she had us rolling in the aisles. Constant Bernard is a magnificent Panto Queen who outdid herself every moment she was on stage. She loved children and little animals and even several attractive old gentlemen in the first row who became the focus of her attention all through the evening in a more adult form of comedy!!!
The other figure who made the small ones go wild was Wanda the Wicked enforcer of city bylaws,. .She had the young ones in the palm of her hand and she played her wickedness to the very hilt until the spirit of goodness ends in a graciously exciting number of reconciliation where the whole cast blasts out the number “Cold Hands Warm Hearts”.
There is no doubt that this panto production team (producers Sarah and Matt Cassidy. beautiful costumes by Lu-Anne Connell, as well as her prop and set design, Jessica Vandenberg’s excellent choreography and the video made of their run through the Preston street merchants, enhanced their popularity in the neighbourhood . This is the true spirit of the Panto. Let us hope they all come back next year…!! They are a true delight.
The Blizzard of Oz
Written and directed by Ken MacDougall
Musical director , keyboard, arrangements: Paul Legault
Choreography Jessica Vandenberg
Drums Brydone Charlton
Electric bass Gabriel Leury
Lighting and sound Dave McLeod, Andrew Brum
Costumes, props, , set design etc Lu-Anne Connell
Graphic design, Matt Connell
Performance at The Gladstone Theatre from January 3 to 8pm, 2017.