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'Holiday in Oz' a Treat in Pasadena


It's Sherwood Forest and the Land of Oz as you've never seen them. Where Friar Tuck sings "I've Got Plenty of Mutton" and Prince John calls a booing audience, " 'orrible looking peasants." Where Dorothy sings the theme song from "Annie" and takes offense when asked to oil the Tin Man--"I beg your pardon, we haven't even been properly introduced."

"Holiday in Oz" at the Pasadena Playhouse is a little bit naughty, hugely wacky and a howl of an evening for preschoolers, grandparents and everyone in between. It could be the perfect antidote to a surfeit of seasonal sweetness.

Performed by two exceedingly talented comic actors--Steve Cassling and B.J. Turner of the Hampstead Players, the show is done in the style of traditional English pantos, a sort of madcap, fairy tale vaudeville with lots of cross-dressing. This is its third holiday season at the Playhouse, but this time it's made a happy transition from the small Balcony Theatre to the mainstage.

In a fairy-tale picture book setting (by Peggy Ebright), Turner and Cassling romp through two classics of literature, playing all the parts, male and female.

The audience gets into the act in a big way. Onstage volunteers--shy but willing little boys and girls and a few game adults--play the tornado, scary animals, outlaws and magic poppies. The rest of the audience is encouraged to clap, yell, cheer and "woof" for Toto, boo, hiss and generally undermine the bad guys.

Turner wrote, directed and designed the costumes, and is unforgettable as vamping King John, gluttonous Friar Tuck, and pig-tailed Dorothy, who looks as if she'd be at home smoking a cigar and reading the Racing Form. He also rollicks through the roles of Sheriff and the Wicked Witch "of West Hollywood" and makes an eye-popping Mrs. Santa Claus. (Santa appears as himself.)

Handsome Cassling, blissfully plays against type as Glinda the Good in pink tutu and blond wig, as Robin Hood singing a hot rendition of "Rockin' Robin," and as Prince John's rappin' Fool. He shines as the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion and the Wizard.

Music director Marc Fitch, with percussionist Robert Beck, deserves equal applause for his cleverly conceived show tune medleys and musical punctuation. Ditto for Kevin Mahan's warm and cool lighting design.

It's a long show for the youngest--over two hours--but most at opening night seemed eager to stay the distance. As zany as events become, Cassling and Turner remain in control, treat their small audience volunteers with affectionate reassurance and inject just the right amount of sentiment to wrap things up.

At 39 S. El Molino Ave. through Dec. 30, Wednesday-Sunday and Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday - Sunday at 2:30 p.m.; Dec. 12 , 19 at 11 a.m. and Dec. 24 at 1 p.m.; $12 (under age 18) to $17. (213) 480-3232, (714) 740-2000, (818) 356-PLAY.

KID NOTES: American Cinematheque and the Los Angeles Children's Museum have begun a monthly "Saturday Matinees for Children and Their Families" series at the Directors Guild of America in Hollywood, offering screenings of classic, contemporary and foreign films. On the program next Saturday at 2 p.m. is one of the few complete prints of Hal Roach's 1934 "Babes in Toyland," starring Laurel and Hardy; a 1941 MGM Tom and Jerry cartoon version of "'Twas the Night Before Christmas" and an in-person visit from Santa Claus. Information: (213) 466-FILM.

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