'We're off to see the wizard'
Picture Dorothy and Toto headed down that old Yellow Brick Road with Scarecrow, Tin Man and Lion. But this time the journey goes off the tracks, and pretty soon the gang is meeting up with some very strange witches and wizards who have jumped into our story from completely different tales.
Such is the premise of Oregon Cabaret Theatre's new "The Wizard of Panto-Land," which will open Friday, Nov. 19, and run through the holidays. With a book and lyrics by the Cabaret's Jim Giancarlo and music by Eric Nordin of Portland, the show is a musical comedy in the style of British pantomime, or panto, which among other hijinks traditionally mixes up familiar fairy tales.
The production will be OCT's fifth panto over the years, coming in the wake of "Cindy Rella," "Alice in Panto-Land," "Ali Baba" and "Snow White and Several Dweebs."
"They've become a real tradition for us," Giancarlo says.
He saw his first pantomime (not to be confused with mimes) years ago in Barcelona, Spain, put on by the sizeable British community there. A few years later, in 1997, he went to London during the holidays and saw 14 pantos in 10 days.
"They were everywhere," he says. "Big theaters with British sit-com stars, little ones, ones in community centers."
With roots in commedia dell'arte, British panto mixes fractured fairy tales, puns, cross-dressing, wacky jokes, local and topical references, wild costumes and audiences that are encouraged to yell back at the performers.
Pantos often feature familiar songs with comic lyrics substituted for the originals.
But not this time out.
"It's mostly an original score," Giancarlo says. "There are a few snippets of parody though."
The panto tradition is to have a "dame" played by a man and a "principal boy" played by a young woman. This time out Dorothy is played by Emilee Yaakola, Scarecrow by Matthew Steven Lawrence, Tin Man by Christopher Carwithen and Lion by Scott Ford. The cross-dressing will come mostly courtesy of Dante Maurice Sterling, who will be a dame and other characters.
"He's playing a whole series of witches and wizards," Giancarlo says. "The idea is they go off but keep wandering into other fairy tales."
Don't look for the traditional "principal boy." Giancarlo's theory is that having a scantily clad young woman play a boy back in the day was an excuse for men to see women's legs in those days of dresses that hit the floor.
Meagan Iverson, who provided the able piano accompaniment in the Cabaret's recent "I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change," will again play piano. Giancarlo is directing, and Nordin is handling musical direction.
Michael Halderman's set was inspired by pop-up books produced for children. Kerri Lea Robbins' costumes use "repurposed" materials such as bubble wrap, computer parts and a chenille bedspread.
Cabaret says the show is suitable for the family, including children older than 5. Panto traditionally contains mild sexual innuendo and double entendre that are presumed to go over the heads of the little ones.
The Cabaret's holiday shows are popular, so those wanting to attend would probably do well to get their tickets early. A gourmet dinner menu is available for evening shows, and brunch is available for Sunday's matinees. Ticket prices do not include food or beverages.
Bill Varble writes about arts and entertainment for the Mail Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com