Review: Jokes and songs awake ‘A Snow White Christmas’

"A Snow White Christmas" at Pasadena Playhouse stars Ariana Grande, right, and Charlene Tilton.
(Philicia Endelman)

English pantomime comes to Pasadena with a sitcom wink, a Top 40 backbeat and enough topical in-jokes to make Jon Stewart woozy in “A Snow White Christmas.” This larky take on the classic fairy tale, which opened at the Pasadena Playhouse on Wednesday, isn’t exactly high art, but that won’t hinder the enjoyment of undemanding audiences.

The brainchild of Lythgoe Family Productions -- son Kris wrote the script, mom Bonnie directs and paterfamilias Nigel turns up in a video cameo -- “Snow White” seeks to Americanize the essentials of the panto tradition. Current-day song hits intertwine with frolicsome choreography (courtesy of Spencer Liff) and shrewd participatory maneuvers that ensure the house’s involvement with the action.


Accordingly, we cheer the titular heroine (Nickelodeon star Ariana Grande, unaffected and soaring of vocals), boo the Wicked Queen of North Hollywood (“Dallas” fixture Charlene Tilton, channeling Mae West on Red Bull) and watch court jester Muddles (the lithe, improv-quick Jonathan Meza) benignly flirting with front-row girls and trading vaudeville shtick with Herman the Huntsman (big-voiced David Figlioli).

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There’s a handsome swain, Prince Harry of Hancock Park (Curt Hansen, toothsome and tongue-in-cheek), seven Fat Tuesday-headed dwarfs, a show-stealing miniature pony named Blitzen (Little Man, destined for equine greatness) and, naturally, a Magic Mirror (a droll, video-projected Neil Patrick Harris, who has likely never had a cushier gig).

Song choices, though a tad jarring amid the uncredited storybook sets, Verilite swirls and lavish costumes (designed by Julia Clancey, Keev Guessford and Donna Maas) will appeal to the postmillennial generation. Snow White arrives with Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” and bemoans her fate to Katy Perry’s “Firework”; the dwarfs cavort to “Lazy Song”; Prince Harry croons “The Power of Love”; the queen conspires to “Thriller” and “Bad Things”; and so forth, right up to the group singalong and “Celebration” finale.

It’s all harmless fun, although the jokes grow sophomoric, even fairy tales require a measure of actual threat for their happy endings to fully register, and the absence of a holiday standard seems curious. Still, if “A Snow White Christmas” is closer to countless theme-park shows than traditional panto, it will certainly enchant its targeted demographic while giving their parents a respite from the umpteenth “Nutcracker” and “Christmas Carol” on tap.

“A Snow White Christmas,” Pasadena Playhouse, 39 S. El Molino Ave., Pasadena. 7 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays, 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Saturdays, 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Sundays. No shows Dec. 18-19. Ends Dec. 30. $22-$72. (626) 356-7529 or Running time: 2 hours, 5 minutes.


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