Landry’s ‘Snow White’ is plenty animated
During his post-performance speech after opening night of “Snow White and the Seven Bottoms,’’ Ryan Landry announced that he hopes to take the show to New York, as he did last year with “Mildred Fierce.’’
Fine, as long as he makes sure to get a round-trip ticket. None of that Babe Ruth-Jacoby Ellsbury stuff. No taking his talents permanently to Gotham. We need Landry here, because he and his Gold Dust Orphans still offer a pretty reliable guarantee that the time you spend in their company will be filled with raucous good cheer and even suffused with a spirit of, yes, community.
To be part of that community, it helps if you enjoy seeing the classics defiled, an enterprise to which Landry has consistently brought affection, wit, a deep knowledge of pop culture, and an unapologetic willingness to do anything for a laugh in the nearly two decades since the Orphans were founded. An inventive writer-performer who specializes in the musical mashup/sendup, he likes to deconstruct cinematic, theatrical, or literary monuments like “It’s a Wonderful Life,’’ “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,’’ and “A Christmas Carol,’’ then reconstruct them along the lewdest possible lines.
Landry’s satiric target this time is “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,’’ the Brothers Grimm tale that, in 1937, became Walt Disney’s first full-length animated feature film. Uncle Walt would undoubtedly blanch at Landry’s version, rife as it is with X-rated repartee, a cow from which protrude not udders but, um, something else, and gay puppet dwarfs who work as drag queens, have names like Liza and Cher, and are intent on using Snow White’s allure to procure husbands for themselves. Then there’s that band of tough-talking hip-hop rabbits, not to mention a three-headed monster called the Kardashidragon, described as “the most vapid, soul-sucking monster the world has ever known.’’
But, who knows, Disney might appreciate the blend of cut-loose creativity and polished staging that is on display at Machine (and, more broadly, he might give props to the prolific Landry’s unflagging work ethic).
Directed with turbocharged energy by James P. Byrne and exuberantly choreographed by Meredith Langton, “Snow White and the Seven Bottoms’’ reunites the two young performers who made a splash in Landry’s recent Frank Capra-James Stewart spoof “It’s a Horrible Life’’: Jessica Barstis, who plays Snow White, and Paul V. Melendy, who portrays Prince Charming.
Barstis, a rising senior at Boston Conservatory, again demonstrates a Kristen Schaal-like deftness when it comes to straddling the line between bewildered innocence and sly awareness. And the nimble Melendy again seizes the opportunity to showcase his exceptional comic gifts: His Prince Charming is hilariously self-absorbed, a fop’s fop.
The prince claims to be searching for “a maiden sweet and pure’’ so he can marry her. Hmm, dubious. In any case, the prince’s vanity is so extreme that he seems a lot more interested in the magic Mirror who gets to decree who’s the fairest of them all, portrayed by the indispensable Olive Another. A longtime member of the Orphans troupe, Another’s delivery always cracks me up: It’s a perfect illustration of Ed Wynn’s adage that “a comedian is not a man who says funny things; a comedian is one who says things funny.’’
As for Landry, he can be funny without saying a word: His imperious glower as the evil Queen is really sort of priceless. The Queen has lethal designs on Snow White because the younger woman is favored by her subjects, and the Queen’s mood is not improved any after the Mirror delivers some tough truths in an early song: “You may be rich and you may reign/ But your face could stop a train! Face it, sister, you don’t look so good!/ Men once turned their heads for you/ Now you’re turning stomachs too . . .’’
Part of the fun of Landry’s shows is keeping track of his constant nods to pop songs, musical theater, and various performance traditions. Melodic traces of a couple of 1970s tunes, Chicago’s “Color My World’’ and Elton John’s “Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding),’’ can be heard in “Snow White and the Seven Bottoms.’’ At one point, the Mirror and the Queen engage in a groan-worthy exchange of setups-putdowns that harkens back to vaudeville. The dynamic between Prince Charming and his Footman, wittily portrayed by Scott Martino (who also designed the lush costumes), is reminiscent of the testy rapport between King Arthur and Patsy in “Spamalot.’’
On opening night the Footman’s mustache kept slipping, whereupon Martino brought the house down with some inspired improvisation, which in turn gave Melendy an opening for an ad-libbed line that triggered further laughter. Landry’s scripts leave room for such moments of serendipitous discovery. And who else would create a show that name-checks both “Downton Abbey’’ and Revere?
Landry’s general animating principle is nicely summed up in an early musical number of “Snow White and the Seven Bottoms’’: “With a song in my heart/ I’m forgetting the planet’s a mess/ Heaven knows we can’t stop Armageddon/ But please can’t we give it a rest/ It’s best to smile while the world falls apart/ With a song in your heart.’’ Amen to that.