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Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Theatre review: there’s no place like the East Van Panto: Wizard of Oz

Designed for the whole family, everyone will find something to enjoy

Back for its sixth year, the East Van Panto shows no signs of slowing down. Every year it gets bigger and funnier, and the Wizard of Oz is no exception. Designed for the whole family, it will have you laughing, booing (it’s all part of the panto tradition), and maybe even dancing.

As in previous years, Theatre Replacement has taken a well known story and flipped it on its side to create a hilarious East Vancouver edition. This year is L. Frank Baum’s children’s classic which gets the treatment.

Written by Marcus Youssef and songs created by East Van’s Veda Hille, one of show’s biggest successes is the way in which the team works to incorporate Vancouver jokes, current political references, and mashes them together through the story with song and dance. It is quite a feat, but thanks to Youssef, Hille, director Stephen Drover, and the entire cast, they make it look easy.

Dorothy comes from Poco and when there is a pipe leak, thanks to Trudeau’s pipeline, she ends up in a Land of Oz located at Hastings and Nanaimo. Here she meets three friends (slightly different from the trio found in Baum’s original story), and the quartet embark on an adventure to get Dorothy back home.

In this version of Oz, the Wicked Witch is Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, and Glinda becomes the Good Wiccan of North Vancouver, portrayed as Gloria Macarenko from CBC television’s On the Coast. The play also features our current Prime Minister, and Lululemon founder Chip Wilson.

Craig Erickson as the Wicked Witch, Rachel Notley in East Van Panto: Wizard of Oz. Photo by Emily Cooper.

Christine Quintana plays a bright-eyed Dorothy. With a beautiful singing voice, it makes the “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” gag, in which she is constantly interrupted for CanCon reasons, even funnier.

Kayvon Khoshkam shines as Justin Trudeau and Chip Wilson, and in one bit his belief that Veda Hille is Alanis Morisette is simply inspired.

Other standouts in this very solid cast are the always funny Dawn Petten, and debut panto performer Craig Erickson as the Wicked Witch. Musician Barry Mirochnick also offers up some deadpan humour at the top of the show which is refreshing.

Langara College’s Studio 58 once again pairs with the panto, bringing a few of its students to the show as chorus members. This year’s trio does a great job with Angela Chu’s natural comedic abilities and dancing skills a definite highlight.

Featuring a few children on stage, each night will also feature a new Toto. On opening night the role was played by Kiyo Roth. A delight to watch, her sweet singing voice was enough to melt any audience member’s heart. Toto also saves the show, finding a way to melt the Wicked Witch Rachel Notley.

The backdrops are beautifully painted by local artist Laura Zerebeski, and feature bright and whimsical scenes of the Lower Mainland.

While this annual tradition is known for its left-leaning sensibilities (it is East Van after all), some of the jokes were a little frustrating, including the running joke about personal pronouns. Written as a politically-correct young woman, Dorothy corrected the language of many throughout the show, which felt forced, and not always funny.

But it is a small quibble. For the East Van Panto remains a light-hearted and playful experience. Designed for the whole family, everyone will find something to enjoy.

East Van Panto: Wizard of Oz, written by Marcus Youssef. Music and lyrics by Veda Hille. Directed by Stephen Drover. A Theatre Replacement production presented by The Cultch. On stage at the York Theatre (639 Commercial Dr, Vancouver) until January 6, 2019. Visit for tickets and information.

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