Sunday, March 21, 2004

Miss Gulch Returns (Playhouse Square Center)

Miss Gulch attempts to bribe a critic!

Halfway through his one-person performance of ‘MISS GULCH RETURNS!’ Nick Vannello was explaining to the audience that the reason Miss Gulch, Dorothy’s nasty, dog-snatching, basket-wielding spiteful spinster-next-door neighbor of ‘WIZARD OF OZ’ fame had been overlooked was because of the critics. Vannello contended that the critics played up Dorothy and that “damn dog” Toto and left Miss Gulch high and dry. He then sneered, “Are there any critics in the audience?” No one responded. He then said, “I know Roy Berko is here!” He knew exactly where I was. That had been arranged by placing my press kit on the table, front and center in the cabaret setting! The next thing I knew a huge piece of chocolate cake had been thrust into my hands. Vannello then skipped off saying, “Well, that should insure I don’t get another bad review.” The audience and I were hysterical! Vannello didn’t have to waste the money on the cake. I would have given him a favorable review without it.

Let’s get one thing straight, Vannello is not the all-around super performer…his voice doesn’t quite have the necessary finesse, his acting is sometimes a little automatic, he could have let loose a lot more with feeling rather than feigning emotions. However, he does have what this one-person show requires..he knows how to play an audience! He teases, he sidles up unsuspecting victims, he doesn’t take himself seriously, and he does a great double entendre. The result is our really, really liking Vannello, which parleys into a really, really good time for the audience.

‘MISS GULCH RETURNS!” is the brainstorm of Fred Barton who gives us an endearingly demented look at Dorothy’s next door neighbor, Agnes Gulch, who later in the movie becomes the Wicked Witch of the West. You know, the one with the horrid monkeys. Barton has written a score of comedy numbers much in the style of Cole Porter. The rhyming patterns are cute and obvious. As Gulch says as a side-comment during the song “I’m a Bitch,” “Oh, come on now, what else rhymes with witch?” The sold-out audience howled.

The score also included the beautiful ballad, “Everyone Worth Taking, Part 2,” the hysterical “Pour Me A Man” and “Give Me to the Blonde” during which a handsome blonde waiter appeared to fill Gulch’s martini glass, much to the delight of the audience and the leering Vannello.

Charles Eversole provided the musical accompaniment and a few interactions with Vannello and the audience. The production was directed by Lora Workman.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: ‘MISS GULCH RETURNS’ is a fun evening of theatre for the right nitch audience. Vannello doesn’t have the late Margaret Hamilton’s compelling presence (Hamilton, a Cleveland native, played Miss Gulch in the movie version of ‘THE WIZARD OF OZ’), but he does have the ability to lead the audience on a fun-filled voyage, and that’s the whole purpose of this show.