The Ardensingers, located in the bucolic artists village of Arden, is Delaware’s only Gilbert & Sullivan performance group and has been for over half a century. Each spring they present a fully staged version of a G&S classic. In the past, the fall show was either a G&S version of A Christmas Carol or a Victorian Music Hall. Last season, The Ardensingers began staging pantomime (or panto) as its fall production. For those not familiar with pantomime, it is a musical comedy presentation, traditionally a fairytale, complete with song, dances, jokes, exaggerated characters and lots of audience participation. In order for panto to be fully realized, audience interaction is a must. Vocal demonstrations by audience members via cheering for the heroes and heroines, booing and hissing at villains, and clapping and singing along to musical ditties is encouraged. I attended the final dress rehearsal for The Ardensingers’ production of SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES, a panto by Stuart Ardern, so the audience participation portion of the show was merely a few production team members assisting with the required duties.
The storyline lies within the traditional version of Snow White but with Ardern’s style of referencing other stories, including The Emperor’s New Clothes, Goldilocks, and even the movie, The Magnificent Seven. The cast does the best it can with the script at hand. Nicole Servais is sweet, funny and enthusiastic as Snow White. As the Salesmen, Alexander Bowditch (Nifty) and Peter Hayes (Shifty), are gifted speed-talkers who provide rewarding forward momentum and liveliness to every scene they join. Ardensinger veteran, Julie May, gracefully portrays Bad Queen Beryl, while enjoying the most visual and magical attributes of the show along with her accomplice, The Magic Mirror (Leslie Stanford). Ed Emmi (Dame Victoria Sandwich) digs deep into his acting bag of tricks to save many ill-written one-liners. And, for the big saves, a look is worth a thousand words. The Dwarves (Jennifer Andrews, Zach Dolce, Mariellyn Frank, Madeline Funke, Justine Wagaman, Carina Waldeck, Lisette Walker) garner a vote for best ensemble work.
According to the bio in the program, Ardern is a British playwright who entered into theater at the age of ten while appearing in a school play. He didn’t find the script to be particularly funny. It took some time before Ardern began writing plays. His approach to pantomime is to start with a storyline and add humor by approaching familiar settings from unexpected angles. “Very few people will twig every joke, but there should be enough to keep everyone amused.”
I adore British humor. I had a blast when I attended the panto, Robin Hood and His Merry Men, while vacationing in England. The Robin Hood panto was akin to ROCKY HORROR in that, not only did we talk back, boo, hiss and cheer, but we threw various items at the players. Such fun! Unfortunately, Stuart Ardern’s panto, SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES failed to keep me amused most of the time. The extremely dry, awkward script never reaches any level of gleeful fairytale magic or unabashed musical comedy (panto) entertainment. The trifle of musical selections are, at best, unimaginative, lackluster pastiche. Attempts to modernize and localize person and place miss the mark, further voiding the intended fairy tale allure. The maxim, “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” ruminated in my mind while watching the stiff execution of Stage Director, Henry Porreca’s, bits of comedy “shtick.” To make matters worse, at times, the actors themselves looked bored, confused or detached. My belief is that the actors are having difficulty committing to such a thin script as opposed to being bad actors (because, I know many of them, and they’re not bad actors).
Billed as a family offering, I doubt any child would enjoy sitting through this two and a half hour, excessively wordy, less than visually stimulating presentation. The jokes are flat and, at times, too raunchy for today’s children who comprehend adult innuendo more than we care to know. The best joke of the evening was an ad lib by Queen Beryl about seagull droppings.
Perhaps The Ardensingers will find theater magic with its next production, a modernized version of THE SORCERER by Gilbert & Sullivan.
SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARVES
November 15, 16, 21 & 22, 2014
Written by Stuart Ardern
Stage Director – Henry Porreca
Music Director – Diane Gray
2126 The Highway
Arden, DE 19810