A Fairy Good Tale

When I asked the four-year-old next to me to explain the appeal of Snow White, she replied, "Seven beds. Seven bowls. Seven everything." That theatergoer has probably never heard of Bruno Bettelheim, who deconstructed the fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm some 20 years ago. She was entirely oblivious to the grown-up debate raging around her about the advantages of vaginal versus cesarean deliveries as she sat on her mom's lap before the show began on a recent weekday morning.

Still, along with nearly 400 other preschool and school-age kids, she heeded Children's Theatre director Earl Maulding's request and pretended to turn off her cell phone and beeper before the curtain went up. Then the house went dark. The pint-size ticket-holders soon discovered that theater can take you to a place altogether more interesting than the mundane world -- a place in which you just might find someone who can take an ordinary red apple and turn it into a sleeping potion.

That appreciation goes double for those of us who may think an old classic holds no new surprises. In fact Carol Weiss' (new) adaptation of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, now playing at the Miracle Theatre, includes a mirror that stands on roller skates, a courtier aptly named Sir Pompous, and a Wicked Witch. But wait -- there's still the Evil Queen, a girl named Snow White, and seven vertically challenged men. In a style similar to their Disney counterparts, these fellows are named Picker, Packer, Cutter, and Grinder (whose names signify their chores in the mines), as well as Woeful and Mouse (whose names reflect their personalities), and Keeper (so named because he keeps things in order). This show also features an original musical score as well as a few embellishments to the familiar story.

For one thing the Queen in Weiss' tale is not the stepmother of Snow White but rather her aunt. Snow White (who's been relegated to a Cinderella-like role of palace charwoman) also has another aunt, the Wicked Witch, who, as the play opens, makes a gift of an ornate magical mirror to the vain Queen. At first the Queen and her court suspect the tall, odd-shape package contains a bomb. ("No one likes the queen," comments one of the interchangeable ladies in waiting.) Then they discover that the package is snoring. The object turns out to be not a snoring bomb but -- get this -- a looking glass that talks. In fact the mirror rather resembles young Wick, the candlestick from the animated Disney film Beauty and the Beast, but in place of a flame, he has a mirror for a head. His magic? He tells the truth about present-day matters as well as things that will come to pass. "I will answer every time/If your question is a rhyme," the Mirror explains.

Does it matter that this version of Snow White features a Wicked Witch? Only if it bothers you that the crone never really lives up to her name. Her effect on the plot is insignificant, though, as played by Kimberly Martins, she works her magic on this production, entering while Maulding is giving a precurtain speech, and proceeding to make fun of him. Throughout the play she uses her humongous tush to great comic effect and mystifies the audience by making her broom stand upright on its own. Want to know how she does that trick? There's a question-and-answer session right after the show. (At the production I attended, actors answered audience questions ranging from "Is that your real nose?" to "What was the Queen whispering to Sir Pompous that made him take an ax out into the woods to behead Snow White?" What indeed.)

My one quarrel with Weiss' rewrite of the fairy tale is that if you're going to alter a classic, why not remove the misogynistic underpinnings of the story in which an aging woman is vilified for no longer looking young and thus believes she must take revenge on a young girl? Why not rewrite the story so the villain becomes the patriarchal traditions that value beauty over... oh, never mind. My imagination started to run wild. I must have been thinking that anything was possible. Even a world where female heroines aren't stuck doing the housework. I'm going to try to forget that the last thing the dwarfs say to Snow White as they head off to work is, "Dream all you want to, but don't forget to make dinner." And I'm going to take it on faith that somewhere in the theater audience there are young girls who will grow up to be visionary playwrights and write great parts for women.

Whoever they are, I hope these fledgling scribes will find a good musical collaborator. Weiss' lyrics and music are not particularly memorable, especially when compared with the incomparable Frank Churchill's score of Disney's animated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs ("Whistle While You Work," "Heigh Ho"). Chances are no one is going to be leaving the theater humming the show's theme song (chorus: "Everything you do/Depends on you") or "Run, Princess, Run," with which Sir Pompous sends Snow White out into the woods. Only two numbers possess any charm: one in which the dwarfs introduce themselves and the other, called "Special Powers," in which the Wicked Witch does a send-up of a burlesque routine, shimmying and shaking her ungainly bod while praising her magical prowess.

Nonetheless the Children's Theatre production is so winning, it's worth sitting through the songs just to enjoy the performances and staging. In the role of the Queen, Raquel Marmor disports herself quite nicely. I, for one, would not want to run into her in a dark castle or a deserted spot in the woods. Particularly scary is her headdress, designed by Estela Vrancovich (who did all the terrific costumes), which appears as though it might be made out of spare '60s Cadillac tail fins. Equally tarted up, as it were, is Sir Pompous, a vision of pretension and cowardice in plumes and tights, played by the appealing Ricky J. Martinez. Sir Pompous and the Mirror (the delightful Raymond Yanez) provide the story's much-needed comic relief. I mean, who can sit still for an hour worrying about an Evil Queen, unless there's an opportunity to giggle once in a while?

Director Maulding stepped in as the Prince in the production I saw, and he was quite charming indeed. As for Snow White herself, she's played by Lissa Grossman, whose previous Children's Theatre credits include Mistress Mary and the title role in Cinderella. She's charming, too, and possessed of a warm voice and a great patience, all useful attributes onstage, particularly when members of the audience are being carried out at irregular intervals for potty breaks. Someone seated near me momentarily mistook Grossman for Sleeping Beauty, but that's no reflection on the actress. Rather I think it speaks to her ability to impersonate several princesses at once. A good thing. The world can always use more self-confident heroines.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
Book, lyrics, and music by Carol Weiss. Directed by Earl Maulding. Starring Lissa Grossman, Raquel Marmor, Ricky J. Martinez, Kimberly Martins, and Raymond Yanez. Through June 5. Actors' Playhouse Theatre For Young Audiences at the Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables, 305-444-9293.

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Robin Dougherty