Snow White: House of Dwarfs, A Fairy Tale based on the story by the Brothers Grimm, by Cathy Lee-Visscher; lyrics by the Pantoloons. Directed by Cathy Lee-Visscher. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Mark Schane-Lydon and Sam Reilly; photo: supplied
"I'll deal with Snow's electile dysfunction."
Turkey and cranberries: Yum! (especially if I've made them - not a review, just saying). For the past fifteen years those have been appended with other delectables that point me into the heart of the holiday season, specifically the annual production of the Pantoloons' new sassy political satire at the Ghent Playhouse. This year is not only not an exception it is truly one of the funniest of these shows. The loss of three staples (not potatoes, no) of the Panto team is actually celebrated in a lyric that remarks on the legs of Tom Detwiler, the wit of Judy Staber and the singing style of Johnna Murray. Their absence is a loss, definitely, and not the least of the losses, the most of them. What has been left behind, however (Sally McCarthy, Cathy Lee-Visscher, Michael Meier, Paul Murphy, Mark Schane-Lydon, Joanne Maurer and the musical vim and vigor of Paul Leyden), are unique talents who deliver beautifully, especially when Sam Reilly, Matthew Coviello and Nellie Rustick are added to the mix.
Snow White: House of Dwarfs has utilized the current craze for televised Republican debates to formulate their cast of characters. No principal candidate for the Presidential nomination has been left unscathed and even Hilary Clinton plays a major role in the wit and wisdom of the affair. Princess Snow White, born Hilary, flees as usual for her life from the evil intentions of Queen Carly. She takes refuge in a sweet woodland cottage with seven dwarfs named Bennie, Bushy, Chrissy, Lindsey, Marky, Teddy, and Trumpy (getting the picture now?) and when she is killed by a poison apple it is up to Prince William (wink wink) to bring her back to ecstatic life.
The basic story is familiar and easy. It is the retelling that this company does with political and sexual innuendo, cross-dressing, gender confusion and Walt Disney visuals that makes the difference. Eighteen musical numbers - all based on songs we know - with hilarious lyrics move the story along in filmic fashion: Jerry Herman, Elvis Presley, Frank Loesser, Stephen Schwartz, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and Lerner and Loewe (though Alan Jay Lerner is left off their list) supply the source materials. The spoken lines are sassy and silly and anything but naive (no fairy tale retold here - note my title quote above) as they gut and spear each stereotype from today's political arena.
Paul Murphy is a standout as Dwarf Trumpy. He has never been funnier. Joanne Maurer (whose costumes are spectacular for this edition) plays both Teddy and Marky with wacky wonderment. Sally McCarthy is terrific as Bushy and Michael Meier is Bennie to a medical tee. Both of them sing songs with gusto and clarity and add moments of odd beauty to the satirical production. Lee-Visscher adds the right tone of self-righteousness to her Lindsey and Matthew Coviello makes Chrissy into just the wrong man for the job, always mistaking others' words for food clues.
Mark Schane-Lydon is a terrific Evil Queen. A thing of ego in a stunning maroon gown, he brings elements of odd beauty to a character meant to be about nothing but egoism. As her absolute opposite, the Prince and the Woodsman are played by Nellie Rustick who is a romantic dream of a man in both roles and sings wonderfully.
Set Designer Sam Reilly, whose work on this show is divine, is exactly that portraying Snow White. This princess on the lam (they couldn't afford a whole lamb) is endearing and self-controlled as she morphs into a blonde beauty in a pants suit and pearls, ready to take her rightful place among the nobility of the kingdom she should rule. "Rodham, cowboy" she sings as she joins her prince on his noble horse and exits the forest.
Yes, there are puns in this play. There are jokes at everybody's expense and they are as delightful as they are poignant. When Judy Staber created the Pantoloons she intended these entertainments to do more than just make us laugh and boo and hiss and cheer. She wanted them to have an impact. This edition - the first without her - lives up to expectations in every way and if you don't take the time to see this you won't have half the fun the coming year's election intentions should provide.
Snow White: House of Dwarfs plays at the Ghent Playhouse on Route 66 in Ghent, NY through December 13. For information and tickets call 1-800-838-3006 or go on line at ghentplayhouse.org.