Theater review: 'The Big Oz' from Jester Theater

Mobsters, gangsters, wise-cracking molls: The title may be "The Big Oz," but I don't think we're in MGM's beloved 1939 musical anymore.

"The Big Oz" got its start as an offering from Orlando's SAK Comedy Lab at the 1999 Orlando Fringe Festival. A parody of the family-friendly classic with a film-noir twist, the show proved a hit with theatergoers and critics.

Now Jay Hopkins, part of the original writing team, has revived the show in a Jester Theater Production, onstage at the Lowndes Shakespeare Center. It's still a winner — clever, funny and because of the source material easily accessible. Friday night's performance felt a little slow — the pace of the snappy dialogue could have been turned up just one more notch for maximum effect. But this show knows its way over, under and through the rainbow.

A nightclub called the Rainbow, in fact, is where this story begins. In a fight with his girlfriend's father, young Francis Gum gets hit on the noggin. When he regains consciousness, the colors of the club have dissolved to a black-and-white world and Francis is inexplicably a private detective.

Oh, he has also killed the wicked Mitch of the East and thereby made his brother — the wicked Mitch of the West, of course — very angry. Yes, that's the "Mitch" of the West; Mitch is a powerful crime lord. The only way for Francis to save his skin, according to a tough-talkin' district attorney named Glenda, is to find "The Big Oz." Francis is aided in this quest by Tootsie, an assistant who follows him with what could fairly be called dogged devotion. They're joined by other personalities familiar to anyone who has read L. Frank Baum's fable or watched that Judy Garland classic.

A big chunk of the fun (and intelligence) of the show is how the jokes work for all levels of Oz fans. Some are flat-out obvious: A bar called the Yellow Brick Roadhouse. Some are more subtle: Glenda the DA blows pink bubblegum bubbles as she arrives onstage. Think about how Glinda the Good Witch makes her entrance in the film.

I won't ruin one visual gag involving a sugar shaker; it took a good 10 minutes before my brain said, "Oh… I get that. Clever." In fact, I won't say any more about the jokes. You have to see them to appreciate them.

A loopy sense of whimsy also infuses some of the humor — a swipe at France? a mime? All part of the fun.

Each of the fine ensemble embraces the silliness. Of particular note is Robert Diacheysn, whose voice and mannerisms capture both the Wicked Witch of the West and a mafia don simultaneously. And Adam Scharf hits a home run as a variety of characters, especially as the hepped-up doorman to the mysterious Emerald Lounge.

Like many silly shows of this ilk, "The Big Oz" feels a bit bloated — a long buildup to revealing The Big Oz's identity could most definitely be shortened. But this inventive show is more fun than a barrel of winged monkeys.

'The Big Oz'

What: A Jester Theater comedy

Length: 1:45, including intermission

Where: Lowndes Shakespeare Center, 812 E. Rollins St., Orlando FL

Tickets: $18

Call: 407-447-1700

Online: and click on "Get your tickets."

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