After introducing Hollywood to the concept of English pantomime last year with “Cinderella Christmas,” the Lythgoes return to the El Portal Theater with their take on another traditional fairytale in “A Snow White Christmas” — and it’s even more rambunctious and high-spirited than their previous offering, inviting constant audience participation from excited children (and adults) and bringing new life to the well-known story thanks to the excellent comic timing of the ensemble cast that revolves around “The Glee Project’s” Lindsay Pearce as Snow, Marina Sirtis (“Star Trek: Next Generation”) as the sizzling wicked Queen and Neil Patrick Harris, who makes a screen appearance as her very knowing Mirror.
By BOBBIE WHITEMAN
It’s the Mirror that starts the action, quickly setting up the story in a prologue with sly jokes and local references that other characters continue throughout the show. It’s the first indication that this is not a Disney-fied Snow White. Indeed, the production owes more to an updated vaudeville style; in the first musical number the villagers dance in the town square as a very sassy Snow belts out Lady Gaga’s “Born This Way” in true Broadway fashion.
Every fairytale heroine needs a sidekick/secret admirer and Snow White’s is court jester Muddles (Jonathan Meza, hilarious), so-called because he gets his words muddled up — he longs to “liss the kips” of Snow — a seemingly endless source of puns. When Prince Harry of Hancock Park (a wonderfully arch Erich Bergen) arrives in the village searching for the most beautiful girl in the realm to marry (his brother Wills recently tied the knot), it’s Muddles who offers to help him.
The Queen thinks she’s a shoo-in for Harry until her trusty Mirror tells her that she is no longer the most beautiful woman in the kingdom of Beverly Hills, it’s her niece, Snow.
Aghast, she orders her trusty huntsman Herman (Figoli) and Muddles to take Snow into the forest and kill her, bringing back her heart as proof.
We all know they don’t do that — and when the Queen discovers the deception, tipped off by that tell-tale Mirror, she sets the darkly eerie spirits that haunt the forest after Snow in a show-stealing version of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
Snow is saved by the Seven Dwarves who take her home to their Young Miners’ Cottage Alliance, setting up an effusive perf of the Village People’s “YMCA” that everyone in the theater joins in with.
The dwarves have their own real-life fairytale story. Two sets of youngsters were chosen after an open casting call at Culver City’s Westfields mall attracted some 600 wannabes. In a nod to Disney, the tyros wear costumes topped with rubber heads that look like the characters created by the Mouse House and mime their parts to an audio track.
Back in the castle, the Queen (cue boos and hisses from the audience) sings a darkly portentous version of the “True Blood” theme song, “Bad Things,” as she cooks up the poison apple, transforms into an old hag and takes the fruit to Snow. Yes, our heroine eats it and dies. From here, the story differs from the trad fairytale but, suffice to say, it all turns out well via a hilarious scene where Muddles, aided by the dwarves, asks the Mirror’s help but gets the spell wrong and calls up first “Dancing With the Stars” judge Bruno Tonioli and then Nigel Lythgoe in his “So You Think You Can Dance” persona, before raising the Mirror (allowing Patrick Harris, finding himself surrounded by “small people” rather than “small blue people,” to drop in a promo for his “The Smurfs” movie).
Bergen, Figlioli and Meza elicit howls of laughter every time they appear on stage in this high-energy production and the jokes flow thick and fast, many working on two levels, “Shrek”-style, to appeal to kids and their parents.
Pearce’s voice blends beautifully with Bergen’s, who played Bob Gaudio in “Jersey Boys,” while Sirtis’ surprisingly deep tone was wonderfully menacing.
By the time the snow falls on the happy couple in the finale as the cast sing “Celebration,” everyone in the aud has the holiday spirit going full blast.