Review by Noelani Kamelamela
(Boston, MA) Playing fast and loose with both Oz canon and popular culture, imaginary beasts returns to the marvelous lands and characters L. Frank Baum created to amuse and entertain children at the turn of the century in Winter Panto 2016: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. People unfamiliar with the pantomime tradition should not come expecting a regular play, or the musical version of the show, or even a rundown of all of Baum’s Oz books. Rather, it’s a rollicking variety of scenes that parodies both the source and contemporary mores.
imaginary beasts produced this work by securing funding via an indiegogo campaign and I consider it money well spent for props, costumes, audio, sets and lights. Imagination alone could take you over the rainbow, but in particular some of the extremely recognizable props, costumes and makeup are absolutely perfect when deployed. Memes from pop culture made for swift chuckles to amuse the older ones while traditional stagecraft, including vocal techniques and dance, kept the young ones from wilting away.
Audience interaction of the panto sort can be difficult to manage, and the little ones, when encouraged to interact, created moments of improv that slow the action down. The ensemble handled the odd moments in stride and also supported each other such that no single performer hogged the spotlight for too long. It is impressive that there is sufficient breadth in the company to provide for other incapacitated or unavailable members: even though an understudy stepped up and someone else covered for a very large role, the show still ran smoothly.
Running gags never outstayed their welcome, except for the disgruntled obsession of one tiny audience member who really had it in for the Wicked Witch of the West when I attended. Most children were very pleased with the show, and most supervising adults were happy that their kids were engaged and entertained. With an intermission, the Ozian buffet comes in at about three hours.
Like a hot air balloon, the show appears insubstantial at first, but with the right amount of fire, takes flight. To keep up with the beasts feel free to connect with them via social media or their website www.imaginarybeasts.org.