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Snow White, dwarfs are giant delight

Rodgers musical provides lots of great family fun

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SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS, Rodgers Memorial Theatre, Centerville; continues through Feb. 9. Tickets are $9-$14; phone the box office at 298-1302. Running time: 1 hour, 15 minutes (one intermission).

CENTERVILLE — Sixty-five years ago, Walt Disney's animators defined the standard of what the Grimm Brothers' classic fairy tale "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" would be for future generations.

For one thing, the Disney classic assigned names and identities to the seven little miners who take the fair young Snow White into their forest home. Since 1937, the dwarfs have been known as Dopey, Sneezy, Grumpy, etc.

There have been many other adaptations since, but Disney's is generally regarded as the all-time classic.

A few years back, lyricist Elsa Rael and composer Michael Valenti created their own whimsical spin on the beloved children's tale — with all new music, a speeded-up storyline, fewer frightening aspects, a slightly different ending and new names for the dwarfs. (Disney's are copyrighted.)

I'm not sure how Rodgers Memorial Theatre stumbled across this nifty little script (it ran for nearly four years off Broadway), but guest-director Jim Christian's imprint, including sprightly choreography and delightful characterizations (plus Sylvia Swasey's wonderful costumes), combine for perfect family entertainment.

Despite seven scene changes (the action quickly evolves back and forth between the evil queen's chambers, the deep woods and the dwarf's cottage), the whole shebang runs barely 75 minutes. Most kids will be home well before bedtime.

On opening night, Snow White was played by Heather Brown, who truly looks the part of the fairest maiden in what is described only as "a far-off kingdom in the Middle Ages." She's relegated to menial tasks for the insanely jealous queen after the magic mirror (played by Eric Millward) insists that Snow White, not the queen, is the fairest in the land.

Jennie Whitlock, as the queen, does a masterful job, storming about the castle, determined to get rid of Snow White. Later, after the woodsman (Landon Richard Smith) leaves Snow White in the forest (but minus the queen's requested curse), the fun kicks into high gear as the seven yodeling dwarfs find the lass sleeping near their cabin.

Christian uses seven grown-ups for the dwarfs, and they're all a hoot. While the names are different, there are some tell-tale mannerisms that make them easy to tell apart:

— Mosquito (or in one cast, Ms. Quito — played by actress Meredith Gibson) is constantly sneezing due to allergies and itches. Her costume has at least a dozen pockets, all filled with handkerchiefs.

— Scotty (from old Brigadoon), sporting a tartan sash, has that aloof Scottish "grumpness" about him. He's nicely played by Robert Gibson.

— Flubber (Shawn Maxfield) is a little on the dopey side, always just a step or two behind the others.

— Blubber (Darin Beardall) is the portly one, excited that maybe Snow White can cook.

— Scrubber (Clark Burbidge) is the dwarf who likes to keep things clean.

— Fred (Erick Johansen) is the bashful one of the bunch. But he soon warms up to Snow White's sweet charms.

— Pepito is the patriarch of the dwarfs, apparently the son of a Spanish matador. (On opening night, Dave Hill was pinch-hitting for ailing Sterling Brimley.)

Parents and children should thoroughly enjoy this stylish look at the age-old fairy tale.

Rael's lyrics are clever and humorous. The queen's endless list of jobs for Snow White include "cleaning the gable, sweeping the gable — and after lunch, I'll have another bunch."

(The Grimm Brothers originally had a fairly grim ending, having the queen grotesquely killed off at Snow White and her prince's wedding ball. This version writes the queen out of the action with a lesson about the toll of greed and jealousy.)

Like all Rodgers Memorial Theatre productions, this show is double-cast. The leads in the alternate cast include Brooke Flinders as Snow White, Melinda Cole Welch as the queen and Wil Meij as the mirror.

E-MAIL: ivan@desnews.com