BWW Review: MSMT's SNOW WHITE Delivers Magic and Message
Maine State Music Theatre launches its 2019 Theatre for Young Audiences series with a fresh, vivid, polished production of Marc Robin and Curt Dale Clark's highly original musical version of SNOW WHITE. The familiar fairytale gets a "politically correct" overhaul in this iteration - one which despite the fact that it was written more than twenty-five years ago - remains astoundingly innovative and relevantly modern.
As they do so brilliantly in all their musicals for young audiences, Robin and Clark challenge stereotypes and subtly insert moral messages. In SNOW WHITE they take on gender roles, giving us a heroine who is confident, kind, and not at all interested in riding off into the sunset with the handsome, but conceited prince. The authors also creatively refashion the seven dwarfs - who are, in fact, tall men who aspire to be a singing group - re-making them each into an historical character with his own unique perspective. The moral compass of this funny, loveable band of brothers is Martin Luther King, Jr., whose idealism and belief in equality, diversity, inclusion, and forgiveness shape the meaning of the tale.
In a tight one-hour book, Robin and Clark prove themselves masters of dialogue that is contemporary, yet reminiscent of tradition, and they have a keen sense of humor that is flippant, ironic, sassy, and silly by turns, keeping the audience laughing throughout. Moreover, they engage the children in the audience by letting the actors break the fourth wall and draw the youngsters into the action and the decision-making that shapes the ending. Then, too, they know how to create characters that are colorful and who delight with the unexpected. The music is varied stylistically; the work is largely underscored, and the songs are rather demanding vocally; the lyrics are clever, smartly rhymed, and never predictable. Most of all, this SNOW WHITE has a widespread appeal, playing to the youngsters on one level and the adults on a more sophisticated one.
Curt Dale Clark directs and choreographs with assistance from Raymond Marc Dumont. Clark's connection to the piece is evident, and he paces the action briskly and keeps the laughs coming, while not losing sight of the heart of the narrative and making the touching moments really count. The choreography is lively, with special highlights in the Magic Mirror's tap solo and the zany musical staging for the dwarfs. Music Director Ben McNaboe and Assistant Music Director Evan Cuddy provide sympathetic support to the singers, and shape the score with conviction and panache.
Each of the twelve-member cast invests his/her role with admirable detail. As Snow White, Ayanna Stover manages to combine sweetness and strength, making the princess a graceful, fun-loving, spirited young woman, and she uses her lovely soprano to fine effect, especially in her solo "Forest Song." As her evil nemesis, Queen Narcissus, Jane M. Abernethy gives a larger-than-life performance that completely commands the stage. Relishing her wickedness and reveling in her self-absorption, she delivers her solo, "Me, Me, Me" with lush abandon. As Manfred the Butler Mel Bills demonstrates her excellent comic timing playing opposite Woody, the Woodsman, while Andrew Carney, as the talking, tap-dancing Magic Mirror, gives an animated performance, delivering his rhyming lines with just the right dash of mockery, and lights up the stage with his song-dance routine in "Magic Mirror." Nicholas Hall plays the handsome, conceited Prince Charming to the hilt, and he proves inventive and fearless in "One Song," which ends on a soaring vocalise that, Hall resolves in an amusing falsetto.
The seven dwarfs are all vibrantly cast for contrast and cohesion, and their series of vocal introductions makes for one of the most magical moments in the show. Elliot Nagler is a less-than-bold Columbus with a strong vocal presence in "Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria;" Tanner Callicutt is a wise and wise-cracking Confucius, while Mel Bills successfully masters the accent and the trouser mode of playing Freud. Sam Allen, as a befuddled but loveable Merlin, gets to show his vocal prowess in "I Am a Wizard," while Cameron Wright makes a convincingly surly, misanthropic Scrooge, who is delightfully transformed into a manically high-stepping new man when Snow White is saved. Ben Walker-Dubay makes Caruso an Italianate womanizer, and he demonstrates a powerful operatic-styled tenor in "I Love the Opera." Gifted with perhaps the most stirring song in the entire play, Megan Guynes delivers Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" with passion and eloquence, making it her own with a unique mixture of oratory and fervent belting, and she gives her character all the gentle dignity of its namesake.
In the three main stage performances, SNOW WHITE performs on the set of SOPHISTICATED LADIES with elegantly evocative props by Trevor Frederiksen, lights by Annalise Caudle, and sound by Nicholas Kunkel. The opulent costumes by Kathleen P. Brown are historically accurate to each of the dwarfs' time periods with an overlay of traditional medieval fairytale look for the inhabitants of the castle, and a whimsical creation for the Magic Mirror. Miki Acton anchors the show expertly as stage manager with help from crew members Madi Morressey and Elijah Spellman.
For the first time this season MSMT has offered its TYA series as a subscription as well as in single seats, increased the number of productions from two to three, and added some performances. In the case of SNOW WHITE, in addition to the mainstage Pickard performances, the company offered the show to a large sensory-friendly audience and in a special preview to an invited adult audience. Each time, it was inspiring to see how well received it was by viewers of all ages and abilities. Not only does the Robin and Clark retelling upend tradition at the same time that it mines the core of the tale, but it offers a delightful, entertaining musical adventure that is strikingly universal as it combines magic with message.
Photographs courtesy of MSMT
MSMT's Theatre for Young Audiences' SNOW WHITE continues at the Pickard Theater, 1 Bath Rd., on June 12 and on June 15 at 10 am and 1pm. www.msmt.org207-725-8769