Mirror, mirror on the wall, what show is the most playful of all?
Easy peasy. Something drawn from a fairy-tale page: “Snow White” on the Children’s Theatre’s Cargill Stage.
And it features a tour-de-force showstopper that recalls the madcap virtuosity of the late, great comedian and comic actor Robin Williams.
In dizzying fashion, actor Dean Holt plays all seven dwarves in director Greg Banks’ entertaining new adaptation of “Snow White,” which opened Friday in Minneapolis.
Holt draws his cap low over his eyes, drops his voice a couple of octaves, and squares his face to depict Dwarf No. 1, a stolid, all-business ex-military figure. Holt whimpers like a frightened puppy to signal paranoid Dwarf No. 2. Sleepy Dwarf No. 3 is evoked with a stretch and a yawn. And so on through a battery of tics, gestures and vocal changes.
These characters, which come fast and furiously, are crisp and clear in Banks’ witty retelling of the Grimm fairy tale. Banks has updated the story for the millennial set. Snow White is a girl who is so beautiful, it drives her vain stepmother, the queen, to attempt murder.
The production is dark, honest and full of play. There is plenty of audience interaction, too. In fact, the one-act play, which takes place in a forest of overturned flora created by scenic designer Mikhail Kachman and lit evocatively by Rebecca Fuller Jensen, only gets going after the cast polls the audience.
About that cast. Longtime company member Holt is one-half of an effort that at first blush seems like theatrical folly. Two actors play all 14 characters in “Snow White.” Holt’s scene partner, Blackout Improv founder Joy Dolo, repeatedly shows that she, too, is a protean dynamo. She depicts the title character with innocence, heart and flair. Her Wicked Stepmother is scary and severe, violating the personal space of the mirror when it tells her that she’s no longer the most beautiful person of all. And Dolo also has a showstopper when she depicts the prince whose kiss brings Snow White back to life.
In this last role, Dolo imbues the fella with overconfidence and machismo. Her prince is so inflated with bluster, all he needs is a gust of wind to just float away.
Dolo and Holt are accompanied by Victor Zupanc on accordion, nested above the playing area. In addition to the folksy, occasionally rollicking music, Zupanc also serves as a kind of Foley artist, making mood-changing forest noises and wind whistles.
In his adaptation, Banks effectively uses the frame of birds to tell the narrative. The natural world adores the virtues embodied by Snow White but frowns on the wickedness of the Stepmother.
About the only thing that’s questionable about this new “Snow White” is the fairy tale itself. Is the wicked stepmom archetype tenable in the modern age?
The idea that a woman can be so vain and consumed by her looks that she’s willing to murder to protect her status is highly problematic, even if variations of that idea have fueled everything from “Dynasty” to the “Real Housewives” franchise. But without the Wicked Stepmother, there’s no story.
Director Banks doesn’t answer these questions directly. But he leavens them with his sense of play. Actors Holt and Dolo change characters in the middle of scenes, making the show a celebration of their talents and making this “Snow White” a rollicking, funny treat.