Snow White | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

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Growing Stage Children's Theater Company

at the Coronet Playhouse

The tale has been told for centuries all over the world. In America, however, Snow White is a Disney character "living," as they all do, in Disney's Magic Kingdom. And thanks to Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, everyone knows exactly which details of the story are official--the magic mirror, poison apple, glass casket--and which are not: the strangling lace, the poison comb, the implication that Snow White's true mother died giving birth to her.

So you have to admire a children's theater that has the courage to mount a production of Snow White that's been adapted from the tale as collected and published by the Brothers Grimm in 1819. This is not to say that the Growing Stage Children's Theater has been absolutely faithful in its adaptation of the tale to the stage.

A few Disney touches were bound to creep in, the most obvious of them Snow White's outfit. Also the dwarfs whistle a few bars of "Hi-ho, hi-ho, it's off to work we go"--but then they break off with an ironic "Naahhh!" (a joke that entertained the adults but left the kids momentarily confused). But except for these, and Jeanette Imbler's wimpy interpretation of Snow White, so sexless and white-bread it was impossible to see what the Prince saw in her, the production is blessedly free of the Disney influence.

The Growing Stage does allow some odd choices to mar an otherwise interesting and faithful adaptation. The most painful is that it pares the number of dwarfs to three. Even the younger kids in the audience wondered where the other four were. It also has added a few elements from "Goldilocks," such as having Snow White sample various bowls of porridge set around the table in the, uh, Three Dwarfs' home. My friend Rob's four-year-old daughter Madeline turned to Rob and told him with a giggle: "They're playing the three bears."

Among the more positive changes, the Growing Stage has eliminated from the story all those subtle elements meant to prepare little girls for a hausfrau's life. After all, the deal those seven workaholic dwarfs cut with Snow White in the original--we'll give you a home and security, and you do all the cooking and cleaning--sounds suspiciously like the same bad deal women have been given for centuries. In director Alan Baranowski's production, housework is transformed from a way to earn one's keep and a symbol of Snow White's fitness for marriage (see Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment) to a form of cruel and inhuman punishment. It is the Wicked Queen, not the dwarfs, who forces Snow White to clean the house, in the hope that all that sweeping, mopping, and scrubbing out the tub will spoil her beauty.

Of course, when the dwarfs agree to let Snow White stay with them, they do mention that she might do a little work around the house; but evidently the work is light compared to what she was used to back at the castle, because we never catch her working. In fact, Snow White's life among the little men seems quite leisurely, consisting mostly of sitting in a chair waiting for old women peddlers to happen by selling irresistible laces, combs, and poison apples. In the Disney version, of course, Snow White never seems happier than when she and about a thousand bluebirds are singing merrily as they hang the dwarfs' clothes out to dry.

Most of the other changes to the story are of a subtler, and pretty harmless, variety--the Prince is introduced earlier, and Snow White's father dies (he's all but absent in most versions of the story anyway).

Baranowski's cast is merely competent: all but one turn in credible but not particularly amazing performances. The exception is Carol-Ann Black, whose performance as the Wicked Queen is so witchy evil that the play jumped a notch in intensity every time she entered. Her sessions with the Mirror on the Wall (played quite ably by Josh White III) were so packed with tension--thanks in part to Baranowski's lighting and sound effects--that even I was sucked in.

Despite minor flaws and idiosyncrasies, Growing Theater's production kept the kids entertained from first to last, and didn't bore the adults. The bottom line was that my four-year-old friend was entranced.

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