Snow White played by Ashley Newman with Bingo the Panto Horse played by the head

Panto as silly as they come

Snow White seemingly walks off Disney’s animated movie screen and becomes a real person in the pantomime Snow White and the Seven Nobbits, opening tonight at the Scott Block in downtown Red Deer. With skin as white as Central Alberta frost, hair “as black as the tar sands,” and a knockout singing voice, Olds actor Ashley Newman is such a ringer for the Walt Disney Snow White that you could almost see the cartoon birdies twittering around her head.

Snow White seemingly walks off Disney’s animated movie screen and becomes a real person in the pantomime Snow White and the Seven Nobbits, opening tonight at the Scott Block in downtown Red Deer.

With skin as white as Central Alberta frost, hair “as black as the tar sands,” and a knockout singing voice, Olds actor Ashley Newman is such a ringer for the Walt Disney Snow White that you could almost see the cartoon birdies twittering around her head.

But then you get to her sidekicks: Bingo the farting Panto horse, and seven Nobbits (North American hobbits) and their obnoxious Mother Twerk, played by Albert Azzara in a wig and hoop skirt, and you realize Disney would never have envisioned this Red Deer Players production.

This panto by local playwright Azzara, and directed by Carole Forhan and Sue Humphreys, is as silly, silly, silly as they come. In this case, it means having some goofy-good moments, as well as some less satisfactory ones.

The plot, as seen during a recent dress rehearsal, goes like this: Snow White’s vain stepmother, the wicked Lady Elizabeth (Lizzie) Borden, discovers via her iPad that she’s no longer the No. 1 beauty in the world, surpassed by her stepdaughter who just turned 18.

Furious at being No. 2 (yes, the bathroom association is made), Lady Borden plots with her evil butler Butterworth, and a goon from the Calgary Hitmen hockey team to bump off Snow White.

After the innocent heroine nearly meets her maker near Nordegg, she gets help from her best pal Buttons, as well as Bingo the panto horse and the seven Nobbits: Meany, Mirthy, Muddley, Mumbley, Moany, Mousey, Medic and their adopted Mother Twerk.

The Twerks stumble upon an injured Snow White while inspecting earthquake-wrought damage to their mine near Redford Ridge.

Add to this a possible bank foreclosure, some Nobbits battling self-esteem issues, the discovery of a rare music-playing gemstone, the fortuitous appearance of the handsome Chad Charming, and a murder attempt with poisoned lipstick, and you get a sense of the story’s many subplots and convolutions.

An argument can be made that pantomimes are essentially reviewer-proof — you either love or disdain their over-the-top antics.

I confess to giggling over Austin Powers movies and films involving Ben Stiller, but this panto didn’t really work for me, despite having a few highly entertaining scenes.

And it’s not the farting horse that hampers Snow White and the Seven Nobbits — it’s the overly complicated plot line and two-hour running time.

While considerably briefer than Azzara’s Cinderella Dances With the Stars from last year, many extraneous scenes could still have been dropped to tighten this script. With this kind of story, a running time of 60 to 90 minutes would have been plenty.

There’s some great audience interaction that should appeal to the younger set, however, and some lovely moments of cast members singing well-known tunes from Wizard of Oz, Oliver!, West Side Story, etc. There just aren’t enough jokes or slapstick gags to keep the audience engrossed.

Although Azzara’s script name-drops from local and popular culture, one can only snicker for so long over hearing about the Kardashians, Justin Bieber — or even Mayor Tara Veer, for that matter. And detailed discussions about banking never make for good comedy. Azzara is capable of much more wit and sparkle, as his Cinderella attested.

On the brighter side, there are some inspired performances, most notably Newman, who was born to play Snow White. Marianne Christenson made a good evil stepmother, and Azzara’s overbearing Mother Twerk, prone to coquettishly lifting her skirts, ramped up the show’s energy and was amusing in small doses.

Vicki Dykes’ cute-as-a-button portrayal of Snow White’s friend, Buttons, hit exactly the right tone for this kind of family fare. Bryan Mildenberger made for a very athletic, prat-falling Chad Charming, and the Twerks had their time to shine in the spotlight — especially Mousey (Hannah Humphreys), Meany (Lorraine Stewart) and Muddley (Karen Andresen), who sang a terrific version of If Only I had a Brain (Heart, Courage).

The play’s happily-ever-after scene also worked very well. After hearing the angelic-voiced Newman sing With A Smile and a Song, it was possible to go home with both.

Snow White and the Seven Nobbits runs until Jan. 3.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com

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