There are several things that I perennially look forward to each winter to get me through the grey days and slushy streets of Boston: The Boston Ballet's The Nutcracker, Legal Seafood Clam Chowder, skating on the Frog Pond, The Red Sox equipment truck heading for Florida, and the Imaginary Beasts annual Winter Panto.
This year's edition of Winter Panto takes the familiar tale of Dorothy and Toto and their trip to the Emerald City and adds some delightful twists to go along with the Kansas twister that lands Dorothy, Toto and Auntie Em in Oz.
As is always the case with these annual Panto celebrations, Director Matthew Woods has written a script that incorporates elements of the original story with real time cultural and political commentary spiced with songs from the Great American Songbook. I laughed out loud when one character promised to "make Kansas great again." That comment Trumped almost every other clever quip. There was also a real time reference to the Red Line delays in shuttling people from Kendall Square to Park Street. Mr. Matthew's concept gives ample room for each member of the very fine ensemble cast to vamp and improvise so that their characters sparkle.
Audience participation is always de rigeur for these affairs, so we were always ready with a heart "boo, hiss, boo," whenever the Wicked Witch would appear and threaten mayhem on the assembled travellers or denizens of Oz. This play is a bit of a mashup from all of L. Frank Baum's Oz books, so we have the addition of Scraps, the Patchwork Girl of Oz and The Nome King complicating the shenanigans. They are welcome additions to the usual menagerie of Yellow Brick Road pilgrims.
As is always the case with an Imaginary Beast Panto, there is a seamless blending of clever writing, playful set and costume design, imaginative puppetry, helpful sound and lighting, and infectious joy flowing from the cast to the audience. There is a mutual love affair with vibrant storytelling shared between the artists and the audience members.
If Dr. Chase were to write a prescription for preventing or curing a case of the Winter Blues, it would be to prescribe a healthy dose of Winter Panto. You have until January 30th to get that prescription filled.
Here are the cast and creatives behind this delightful production:
- Matthew Woods - Director, Writer and Conceptual Artist as well as The Wicked Witch of the West
- Cotton Talbot-Minkin - Costumes
- Christopher Bocchiaro - Lighting and Set Design
- Michael Chodos - Tin Man
- Mikey DiLoreto - The Winged Monkey
- Sarah Gazdowicz - Dorothy Gale
- Molly Kimmerling - Scraps
- Amy Meyer - Scarecrow
- Bob Mussett - Royal Historian of Oz
- Beth Pearson - The Wicked Witch of the East
- Joey C. Pelletier - Auntie Em
- Kiki Samko - Glinda, the Good Witch
- Libby Schap - Nome King
- William Schuller - Toto
- Noah Simes - Captain of the Winkie Guard
- Michael Underhill - Yellow Brick Road