Disney Theatricals may have hit the big time when Beauty and the Beast opened on Broadway in 1994, but the animated feature that started it all, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, was adapted for the stage a quarter-century before that auspicious calendar event. The initial 1969 production at The Muny in St Louis was revived there in 1972, with a 1979 engagement at Radio City Music Hall that was a key part of that venue’s diversification plans following its near closure. The show was subsequently televised and released on video, but the show soon slipped into memory and then into cultural insignificance. So how about we celebrate it again today?
The live production of Snow White is indeed a curiosity. Taking the 1937 film as a basis, the story is somewhat expanded in Joe Cook’s Book for the show. Following a prologue that gives us the full spiel about the wish that gives Snow White (Mary Jo Salerno) both her looks and name, we jump forward in time to her father’s second wedding day. The Queen (Anne Francine) is given a bit of a backstory, now coming from a faraway kingdom called Shi-tan, which appears to be a regrettable kind of magical mash-up of Middle and Far Eastern appropriations. Snow White’s father, the King (Thomas Ruisinger), still being alive, the Queen uses her lady-in-waiting, Luna (Yolande Bavan), to traffic Snow White to a remote village where hard labour would destroy her beauty, which the Magic Mirror (Charles Hall, who also voices the Hag) has reluctantly pointed out to his mistress. From there on out, the story plays out very much as the film does, although Prince Charming (Richard Bowne) is built up slightly to have him work with the Huntsman (Bruce Sherman) to expose the Queen’s treachery to the King.
A couple of new songs by Jay Blackton and Joe Cool are thrown into the mix with Frank Churchill and Larry Morey’s eight favourites from the film. The first of these is the forgettable “Welcome to the Kingdom,” which is then followed by the “Queen’s Presentation.” Later, the Prince warbles out a classic 1920s style charm song-cum-lament, “Will I Ever See Her Again?” The lyric of this song lists all of Snow White’s virtues, taking pains to rhyme ‘delicate charms’ with ‘slender arms.’ Far less entertaining is the perfunctory finale, signposted as “Here’s The Happy Ending.”
Frank Wagner’s staging of the show placed human actors alongside theme park-style costumes for the dwarfs and the Hag and a set of woodland characters that offers audiences full-on furry fantasy realness. A live horse is thrown into the mix for Prince Charming to ride – so there’s a clear attempt to use just about every trick in the book along with the expected set designs and special effects. The transformation of the Queen into the Hag is quite spectacular on video and must have been something to see performed live.
The overall result? Well, it’s not great but the children in the audience of the pro-shot that was released on video relished it. That said, there are some fantastically camp moments, more than enough to justify the show’s cult status in Disney’s theatrical history.
Snow White’s next stage appearance would be the notorious opening number of the 1989 Academy Awards ceremony, something that haunts all beings with taste to this very day. A second, much shorter stage adaptation of the film, Snow White: an Enchanting Musical, would be created for Disneyland just after the turn of the century. A typical theme park attraction, the newer production could never replace this grand, crazy, camptastic extravaganza of a show – which Disney seems to have disowned to some extent in its quest to dominate Broadway, the West End and the world.
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