Review: NWCT “Snow White”

Fairy tale retellings are all the rage. From the small seeds planted by the Brothers Grimm and other storytellers, imagination takes over to bring us a bounty of re-imaginings, back stories, and what-ifs, including Maleficent, Once Upon a Time, and, now at Northwest Children’s Theater, Snow White—anime style.

If you’re looking for a fresh take on a classic story and a strong heroine, this version more than satisfies. My five-year-old, who hasn’t seen the Disney movie but flips through the book often, probably expected the tried-and-true. She’d turn to me and ask questions like, “Is she going to eat an apple?” “Is the queen going to turn into a witch?” In answer to one of her queries, my husband said, “It’s a little different, but the core story is the same.” (I don’t think his pun was intended, but I definitely intended it here.)

So, yes, there is an evil queen, but she’s not as evil as she could be. She’s a loving stepmother to Snow White and Rose Red and extremely generous to them and the people in her kingdom. That is, until the Magic Mirror tells her that Snow White is the fairest in the land. As we learn, vanity corrupts. And even our heroine isn’t immune to its spell. It was a little difficult to see a character believed to be humble and selfless through and through turn vain and proud. I had to keep reminding myself that she has to fall to later rise with a lesson learned.

No, there aren’t seven dwarves, but there are seven spirits who guide Snow White and whom she must rescue in order to save the kingdom. Yes, there is a Magic Mirror, but he is not on a wall and wishes people would stop saying he is. He also serves as the narrator, providing insight, backstories, and a good bit of laughs. In fact, all the side players offer some comic relief—the Huntsman in his conflict (and not-very-Huntsman-like ways); Shinigami, the Spirit of Death (yes, the Spirit of Death can be funny); Cat (who is so delightfully catlike); and Kaku, the Spirit of Pain (yes, Pain can also be quite funny). I saw my eight-year-old smiling during one particularly witty exchange.

The influence of anime and manga runs throughout, with quick actions, graceful and video-game-like battle scenes, and lots and lots of color—mostly on the characters and their eye-catching costumes—and the Japanese setting ranges from the traditional to the modern. The music fuses koto music and taiko drumming with electronica, and the set features a regal throne modeled after an emperor’s. And, of course, martial arts play a strong part. Snow White and Rose Red are skilled in staff fighting and can hold their own, and they’re not afraid to do it.

This musical (it has nine song-and-dance numbers) runs approximately 80 minutes, plus a 15-minute intermission. If you’re going to the noon show, keep the time in mind when planning when to feed your young theatergoers. (For us, the noon show started a little late, and we didn’t leave the theater until after 2 p.m. [so the younger one could make the autograph rounds]). Cookies and bottled water are available for purchase in the lobby during intermission if you’re in a pinch.

This show is recommended for ages 5 and up, which seems about right, although I would add that older 5s might enjoy it more. My 5-year-old, who can be brave but knows her limits, covered her ears and eyes during a couple of the more intense scenes. Strobe lights and bright lights, ominous voiceovers, and evil-witch cackling echoing from the speakers all make for an impressive production but may be too much for the younger set.

Snow White runs every weekend through May 22 (with Friday evening performances on the 6th and the 20th) at Northwest Children’s Theater. If you’re going by car, get there with enough time to park. There’s a small lot next to the building, and street parking now comes with a price, since the parking meters have arrived in the NW district. The extremely talented cast (many of them high-school students) convenes in the lobby for autographs and photos after the show. It’s the perfect opportunity to admire their dazzling, colorful costumes—especially Red Bird’s glorious wings—up close.

Jade and her family were given tickets to attend an opening weekend performance on behalf of PDX Parent for review. She was in no way compensated for her opinions.

Jade Chan

Jade Chan

Jade Chan is a native Portlander who returned to her roots after short stints on the East Coast. She remembers a time when Lloyd Center was an open mall, the Pearl consisted of warehouses, OMSI was where the Children’s Museum is now, and traffic jams were rare. A freelance editor and a mom of two, she enjoys sharing her love for the arts and her (ever-changing) hometown with her family.
Jade Chan