Walking into the lobby of The Pasadena Civic, bustling with holiday activity and cheer, we spy tables filled with crafts, food and sparkly things.  Kids and adults squealing and animated, doing their last minute shopping before the Lythgoe Family presentation begins in the theatre.   This year the holiday fest is The Wonderful Winter of Oz, in Pasadena from December 17 to the 30th.

The event is a holiday version of story telling (with a moral), Produced by Becky, Directed by Bonnie, and written by Kris…all Lythgoes!  It’s replete with a Wicked Witch, plenty of jokes, charming songs, dances and, of course, slapstick.  It begins as casually as any family outing.  The seats slowly fill up with wandering families, moms, dads, sisters, brothers, lost cousins, all searching for their seats, and each other.  They’re chattering in anticipation of a fun night.

Marissa Jaret Winokur in The Wonderful Winter of Oz - Photo courtesy of the company.

Marissa Jaret Winokur in The Wonderful Winter of Oz – Photo courtesy of the company.

We are told that it’s a “Panto” (short for Pantomime) so beloved in United Kingdom at Christmas and New Years Holiday time, and is catching on in the U.S. thanks, to the Lythgoe Family, and a whole lineup of beloved supporters.     Panto has a long history going back to the wonderful and wacky world of the 16th Century Italian classical theatre, known as Commedia del arte.  We could even trace it back to Greek Theatre…but let’s not!

Finally, everyone is seated, all cell phones are turned off, and candy wrappers are stuffed in purses.  And the young Mackenzie Ziegler, of “Dance Moms” fame, walks on stage for an opening song.  This was rather curious, since the song had nothing to do with the play.  This lovely young girl also had a difficult time reaching notes, or even making a pleasant tone.  Yet there were waves of screaming from the kids in the audience.   Those of us who took her talent, or otherwise, at face value, were hoping, there was no way to go… but up!  And gratefully, that’s exactly what happened.  We considered her wooden performance, a simple match to the Tin Woodman, played by Phil Lamarr, who somehow managed to add some warmth and humanity as does our beloved Marissa Jaret Winokur of Tony Award winning Hair Spray fame.  Not only does she sing well but graces the stage as Glinda, the Good Fairy, in her sparkly pink ruffled hoop skirt, wand and crown.  She’s charming, silly and fun with her asides, sage advice and solutions throughout.

Mackenzie Ziegler as Dorothy in The Wonderful Winter of Oz - Photo courtesy of the company.

Mackenzie Ziegler as Dorothy in The Wonderful Winter of Oz – Photo courtesy of the company.

There were also standout performances that left the audience either chuckling at having gotten the silly jokes, belly laughing, or yelling in a “call and response” moment when the Wicked Witch, so wonderfully and devilishly played by Yvette Gonzalez-Nacer, instituted a booing contest as she enters in her slinky black frock, peaked hat and black cape.   Her vocal strength and melodic range was a terrific surprise as she moved with ease and style in her specialty numbers, Whatever it takes, Natural and Paint it Black.

Also, the charming and fabulous, Juan Pablo Di Pace, in full Puerto Rican accent, plays the cowardly lion.  He adds fire with his amazing Karma Chameleon number, his vocal ease and range, along with awesome Salsa moves, are reminiscent of the House Boy in “Bird Cage”.  Jared Gertner, the Scarecrow, kept us giggling with his malapropisms and bad jokes, which evoke big “Awwwwwws,” throughout.

The dancers were hyper energetic.  They nearly created tornadoes in the aisles with their rhythmic hip hop versions, of Jazz versions, of contemporary versions of Dancin in the Streets, one of the many numbers choreographed by the Nappytabs Team.  The Musical Direction and Arrangements were aptly done by Michael Orland.  And the lovely tear-jerker. “The Rainbow Connection” was sung by the beloved “Kermit the Frog” as the Wizard, and had us all do a collective Kumbaya.  So, by the bows, the audience was on their feet whooping and dancing along with the performers.  Then it was topped by A Sing Along, (just in case you had not gotten into a holiday spirit).   It was a terrific evening for all ages and well worth spending some quality fun time with the family.

For information and tickets for The Wonderful Winter of Oz, click here.

Featured image: The Wonderful Winter of Oz – Photo: F. Scott Schafer.