Every holiday season in Britain, theatres (yes, spelled that way) throughout the country celebrate the tradition of panto – a traditional fairy tale updated for the modern time in which it’s performed. They’re filled with songs, dances, jokes, exaggerated characters, and lots of audience participation. It’s a terrific way to entertain kids by allowing them to interact with the characters on stage and encouraging them to cheer for the heroes and boo for the villains. And because panto works on two levels, there’s plenty for the adults to enjoy as well. So what could be better than a great panto? How about adding in the lead member of a troupe that works on multiple levels, sings, jokes, and has plenty of exaggerated characters? I’d say that’s a recipe for success! So if you’re in the Greater Los Angeles area between now and December 30th, and you’d love to check out this great tradition, you owe it to yourself to check out Kermit the Frog himself in The Wonderful Winter of Oz, presented by the Pasadena Civic Auditorium and The Lythgoe Family.
The Lythgoe Family Panto produces fun, musical theatre the whole family can enjoy. Known for their creativity and involvement in television hits American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance, the Lythgoes are dedicated to bringing affordable theatre to families across America. Based on the Grimm fairytales and others, each story has been modernized with topical scripts for parents and well known pop songs for kids. The Lythgoes pride themselves on creating a memorable experience a family can share together. And this show stays absolutely true to that vision. The Wonderful Winter of Oz is a holiday version of America’s favorite modern fairy tale, in the style of a traditional British Family Panto. On Christmas Eve, Dorothy gets swept away by a freak Kansas blizzard and lands in a world of munchkins and witches. With songs from Imagine Dragons to Journey to Wham!, The Wonderful Winter of Oz is the perfect family experience at the Holiday time. The play is directed by Bonnie Lythgoe and choreographed by Napoleon and Tabitha D’umo (NappyTabs), with book by Kris Lythgoe and Michael Orland (American Idol) serving as musical arranger and supervisor.
Like most people who grew up in America, pantos weren’t a part of my December celebrations. So the experience of going to a theatre production where cheering and booing, clapping and singing along was encouraged, was a little jarring at first. It took me a little bit to switch off the inhibitors in my brain, but once I did, I had a really fun time at this all-ages event. The jokes were corny but clever; the music was an eclectic mix of country, pop, ’80s dance-pop, and plenty of additional genres; the dance styles ranged from hip-hop to country western to Irish step, and more; and there were loads of jokes that appealed to kids and adults alike – it was a night full of talent from everyone in the cast. Led by Mackenzie Ziegler as Dorothy, Phil LaMarr as the Tin Woodman, Jared Gertner as the Scarecrow, and Juan Pablo Di Pace as the Lion (with a special assist from real-life dog Pickle C. Irwin as Toto), the cast was a powerhouse of performers. Marissa Jaret Winokur and Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer as Glinda the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch of the West respectively were both amazing singers with their own styles, and the ensemble cast of Munchkins and Emerald City residents were some of the best young dancers Southern California has to offer. I really can’t say enough about the talented group bringing their all to the stage.
So how does Kermit the Frog fit into all of this? Why, as the Wizard, of course! Because if you’re going to have a play that takes place partly in Emerald City, why not get an actor who knows how easy it may or may not be to be green? And folks, this is actually him – the real Kermit the Frog. He’s right there in frogness on stage, performed brilliantly by Matt Vogel. Now, Kermit has played plenty of characters in sketches and films, so the idea of him playing someone else is not a stretch in the least. He filled the role of Captain Smollett in Muppet Treasure Island, performed King Midas in Muppet Classic Theater, and probably most famously played Bob Cratchit in The Muppet Christmas Carol. Kermit brings a lot of fun to the role of the wise and powerful Wizard (and will definitely get the biggest applause break in the show), showcasing humor and playfulness in each of his scenes. And while the play doesn’t feature any songs from the Judy Garland film version of The Wizard of Oz, there is still a very famous song about rainbows to which you’ll surely be singing along.
All in all, The Wonderful Winter of Oz is a real holiday treat for kids, families, and anyone looking for a fun, tuneful display of talent and humor. Click here for more info on the event, and kick off your holiday season at the Pasadena Civic Center with The Wonderful Winter of Oz!
Click here to peek behind the curtain on the ToughPigs forum!
by Matt Wilkie