Toronto's Fanciest Movie Theatre
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Toronto’s Fanciest Movie Theatre

As a new treat for Toronto Halloweeners, the TSO turned Roy Thomson Hall into the city's newest participatory movie theatre, complete with popcorn, shouting, and even annoying viewers on their phones.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra sends Dorothy home from the Emerald City behind her (courtesy of some green lights and a pipe organ). Photo by Dale Wilcox.

The Wizard of Oz with Orchestra
Roy Thomson Hall (60 Simcoe Street)

Halloween lends itself spectacularly to the pageantry of cult movie public screenings. Extravagant costumes, uproarious behaviour, and plotlines that are just plain weird are essential in explaining why movies like The Room and The Rocky Horror Picture Show remain captivating spectacles through the years—ones we don’t just want to see, but make events of. The Wizard of Oz is no stranger to the tradition either, with iconic lines, catchy tunes, and a surprising fit with a Pink Floyd album begging for large-scale, campy screenings in crowded, dark indie cinemas. But until this past weekend, never before has a Halloween showing of the film been so… upscale.

Usually on Saturday evening, the glass exterior of Roy Thomson Hall reveals ladies dolled up in dresses, men strutting in suits. This Halloween weekend, however, a much different scene unfolded: gaggles of witches, lions, scarecrows, tin men, live yellow brick roads, a few too many members of The Lollipop Guild, and, of course, the signature blue gingham and ruby red heels of Dorothys dotted the front lobby, lounging by the bars, and snacking on popcorn in their seats. They had arrived for The Wizard of Oz with Orchestra, a screening of the movie with the original soundtrack removed, supplemented instead by live accompaniment from the Toronto Symphony Orchestra—a new event for the TSO. Even the orchestra members themselves were joining in, trading their signature all-black ensembles for more festive frocks (players dressed as the Poppy Field and the House, and the Concert Master, who played an especially bashful Lion, were especially commendable).

With threats of flying monkeys being unleashed on anyone who let their mobile device sound off during the show, there was an unconventional playfulness inside the concert hall. Unconventional, but not unwelcome. The opening roar of the Metro Goldwyn Mayer lion was met with cheers and applause from the audience, who continued their plush-seat commentary at all the key points: boos at the Witch, cheers for Toto’s many escapes, laughs at Glinda’s perfectly deadpan, “Only bad witches are ugly,” and applause after “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” “We’re Off to See the Wizard,” and “Ding Dong the Witch Is Dead.”

Even though The Wizard of Oz is a childhood classic, the audience responded as if they were seeing it for the very first time in the comfort of their own home, with a beer or a glass of wine in one hand, a bag of popcorn or ice cream in the other, and maybe witch’s hat on their head for fun. While evenings at the TSO typically demand silence from the audience, a few patrons around us, at least, felt comfortable enough to check their phones, chit-chat, jest, and repeat several lines word for word with no attempt at a whisper.

The pumped-up wizardly wonder was no doubt inspired by the performance from the orchestra. As the TSO’s first attempt at providing live accompaniment to a film, both the audience and the musicians seemed to enjoy the novelty of the occasion. And though there were a few moments that were a tiny bit out of sync—too quiet for the film’s volume, or lacking in tension (our spines weren’t quite tingled by Miss Gulch’s entrance, as they should be)—many others, like Dorothy’s entrance into the Land of Oz, were beautifully spot on. At other points, we simply forgot what we were hearing wasn’t the original soundtrack. Whether or not this was the intention, the real show was the film itself rather than the orchestra’s performers. On a giant screen in HD, we were struck anew with the many cultural quips that never seem to get old. The writing is simple and clean, the music is fantastical, Toto is a kickass little pooch, Judy Garland is a gorgeous creature, and her relationship with the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion has just the right level of creepiness to make it a cult classic. We left wondering why it had been so long since we had seen The Wizard of Oz, and we imagine the rest of the mostly youthful audience felt the same way.

As the first event, we’d say it’s an exciting move for the TSO in their efforts to engage new audiences. Perhaps it’s still a while before Roy Thomson Hall will boast the fishnets and corsets of Rocky Horror, but the fact that we’re even entertaining the idea is a step forward.

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