Belting the chorus of “Let Me Entertain You” into the heart shaped pencil that was standing in for a microphone, Glinda the Good Witch and her two “bitches” quickly rip off Dorothy’s familiar, wholesome outfit to reveal a bra that can barely contain her breasts and white thigh-high stockings. The floor of the Ryerson University rehearsal room creaked under the weight of Glinda’s heels as the actor playing her contorted in graceful choreography that, just months earlier, seemed impossible for him to do in heels.
Ruby Red Burlesque’s rendition of the family classic, The Wizard of Oz, promises to be like nothing Toronto has ever seen. After watching what was described by the show’s founder and producer Cameron Chase as a “rough rehearsal” of the show, I can confirm that it has already lived up to its promise.
The show is to be an amalgamation of all things creative. Including multimedia components with allusions to film history, high fashion runway- inspired costumes (designed by Blaise Crocker), Hollywood quality choreography (by Angela Mahony, who has worked with Sting, Katy Perry and Nick Jonas to name a few), and incredible singing, Ruby Red Burlesque has pulled out all the stops to create their version of Oz. Each of the characters are reimagined through the lens of sexuality. As Chase put it, “the show is meant to be Dorothy’s sexual awakening”.
Dorothy is a Toronto girl who finds herself in Oz. She is met by Glinda the Good, played by a man who is best described by Chase as “beautifully androgynous”, and embarks on a journey to take control of her sexuality. She meets a Rag Doll, the Iron Maiden and the Lioness, each teaching her different notions of sexuality through familiar pop songs and Burlesque-style dancing. She experiments with drugs through the poppy field. She experiments with groups in Oz. She emerges empowered and half nude.
This is a far cry from the Oz we know and love, but it is an Oz that is impossible to look away from. It is an imagining of Oz that includes everyone in its celebration of sexiness in its every shape, form and preference.
Chase, who conceived of this show 6 years ago, and has run a version of it to sold out crowds in Vancouver, BC, explains, “It just seems like we have to be the game-changers, you know. Like, our generation is one that sees things pretty differently from those before us. Now, it’s our turn to redefine the game, and make things that nobody has ever seen.”
This is very easily what he and the cast are doing with the show, and they are doing it with vigour. The cast, along with its overseeing production company Concrete Vertigo Productions, is a student founded and student incubated organization. It is made up largely of either students or of young people who have recently graduated. Their hunger to carve themselves into the city’s arts and theatre landscape is evident in every line they sing, every article of clothing they cast aside. “Well, you know, we graduate and in the artistic world it’s either you’re going to go work for somebody else and hope you work your way up, or you just start from scratch. We decided to start from scratch. At least that way, we have control over the stuff we’re creating. It just means you have to work twice as hard,” says Stacey Ottman, one of the show’s producers.
Despite being student run, and fairly outside of the mainstream, the show has already found endless support in the city. Swarovski and MAC have both provided product for the creation of the show’s costume and makeup design (Chase tells us he “want[s] these costumes to be seen from space”). Ryerson University has proven to be one of the show’s biggest backers, putting them up in free rehearsal space.
Chase insists that “this is not a show that will make you cry, or think differently about your life. Our goal is to make you want to go home and look at yourself naked in the mirror”. But, this is where he is wrong. While the show may not make you re-evaluate your life, the people in it certainly should. From its producers to its dancers, this show is brought to the stage by a group of young artists who have taken a chance at writing their name on theatre. Each person involved works tirelessly to create a spectacle that blurs the lines between different types of art and create something uniquely their own, in a world that constantly tries to tell them that in order to be successful they have to work for someone else. In a place that is constantly shouting “Follow the yellow brick road!”, the cast and crew of Ruby Red Burlesque have decided, instead, to repave the yellow brick road entirely.