Christmas in Oz is the creation of Ron Lytle, a singer/dancer turned playwright/composer/lyricist who has written several songs, books, and musicals, primarily geared for children. He has been with EBCT since 2005. He is credited with the book, music, and lyrics for the show. Oh yeah, and he also directs it.
It’s a wacky, campy, touching return to the land of Oz. Christmastime in Kansas has our plucky protagonist Dorothy Gale feeling down. She misses her friends – Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion. With help from local general store manager Mr. Tinker, she makes a wishing machine (lovingly dubbed ‘Gidgety’) and is magically whisked away to the Emerald City.
What happens in Oz stays in Oz, but suffice it to say Dorothy and her friends must save the day once again, this time from the evil and very purply witch Nefariosa, who has just recently taken up the witching profession. In fact, Christmas itself is on the line as Santa Claus is captured by the violet villain, who plans to use Gidgety to help her eliminate the holidays altogether.
Christmas in Oz stays true to the original feel of the 1939 classic film while adding fun new characters and situations. Actress Shawna Darling channels all of her cackling charm to the role of Nefariosa, whose transformation at the end is hilarious. And Scott Phillips does a fine job as Mr. Tinker. It’s an important character, as he sets the stage for the entire show, and Phillips gets it right. His take on Santa is also solid and very familiar. He does the big man proud.
The biggest and, for me, most wonderful surprise of Christmas in Oz may be Brigadier Bloop. Played by Gregory Lynch, he perfectly captures the eccentric spirit of the original Gatekeeper from the movie. And Lytle has given him a great deal of stage time, including the lead in an extended tap dance number (“The Bloop Brigade”) where he steps deftly along with his Bloopettes.
Of course, at the heart of the story is Dorothy, played by Jordan Foley, and her friendship with Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion. First of all, Foley is wonderful, with a first class voice, and good acting skills. Zachary Marshall (Scarecrow), Danny Martin (Tin Man), and Michael P. Mendelsohn (Lion) are a joy to watch. It’s fun to see these characters again. They especially shine in numbers like “Be Careful What You Wish For” and “Together We Are Better”, playing off each other with humor and a gentle dynamic reminiscent of the originals.
In “Glinda’s Assessment”, we see a sober Glinda, played with regal bearing by Pamela Ballin, remind Dorothy that it’s all her fault. It’s a funny and smart song that I wish there was more of. And there are munchkins a plenty, all played by cute kids. Their moment comes in the second act during the song “The Munchkins Return”, where they express their distaste for their new leader, Nefariosa. Did I say they’re cute?!
While Act I of Christmas in Oz is pleasant enough, setting the stage for our adventure, it’s in Act II where this show really comes alive, where we get to see familiar characters that we know and love take on new challenges, and where new characters make their strongest impression. In my opinion, it’s where all of the catchy songs are too. The music arrangements are delightful, with some clever choreography.
In the end, Dorothy wakes up next to Gidgety, back in the general store. As she leaves, she says goodbye to Gidgety, who is silent. Was it all a dream? For just a moment we wonder. Lytle has done well to capture that fine line between dream world and reality, just like the film.
Christmas in Oz is the perfect show for the holidays, light-hearted and fun. Scenery, costumes, lighting, sound – all well done (though there were some mic issues on opening night that I hope they work out). It’s a holiday treat that you should bring the whole family to enjoy. But don’t take my word for it. I brought along my 10-year-old daughter, Juliet. Here is her review:
“Dorothy was really good. My three favorite characters I thought were good are Dorothy, Gidgety, and Nefariosa. Dorothy, who was played by Jordan Foley, was a really good actor, singer, and dancer. Gidgety was a smart wish machine. And Nefariosa, the witch who was played by Shawna Darling, was really good. I love the part where she turns good. Overall, this show was great. The costumes, the lighting, the sets, were all really good.”
Photos courtesy of East Bay Children’s Theatre
Douglas Morrisson Theatre
22311 N. 3rd Street, Hayward
Tickets: $15 – $29
Friday, December 13 at 8:00pm
Saturday, December 14 at 8:00pm
Sunday, December 15 at 2:00pm
Thursday, December 19 at 7:00pm
Friday, December 20 at 8:00pm
Saturday, December 21 at 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Sunday, December 22 at 2:00pm