Thursday, February 11, 2016

Review: Snow White's Adult Adventure

Company XIV has a knack for taking the risqué form of burlesque and marrying it with a modern spin, often using classic stories as a skeleton for a steamy night of spectacle and seduction. In their latest offering, Artistic Director Austin McCormick and Company XIV take the tale of Snow White and captivate the audience with sexy choreography, live streaming video, and a jealous dominating queen who seeks to be the fairest one of all.
In this adult only Snow White, the theme of jealousy takes center stage in this battle between an Evil Queen and a fair skinned beauty. With an extremely loose imagining of the fairy tale, director and conceiver Austin McCormick hits the beats of a woman taking down her competition. This is a new conception of a classic tale that is anything but kid-friendly. Using “Snow White” is an easy draw to pull an audience in but had you not known the source material, you'd be searching for a genuine story. McCormick uses German undertones to tell this version. And it's consistent at least. Even when Spanish style music is introduced, it’s paired with German lyrics. It’s a smart choice to focus on the Grimm story, utilizing some of the lesser known elements not used by Disney but when it strays a tiny bit, the little storytelling that is incorporated gets confused. And by Act II, the Snow White story is MIA and we seem to join Diane Paulus' Pippin circus. Regardless, McCormick exploits the theme of jealousy to great use. This production showcases a story of jealousy. And also highlights just how dumb Snow White actually is.
photo by Mark Shelby Perry
What Company XIV does provide is stunning production value. Like their other productions, Snow White is absolutely beautiful. The choreography by McCormick is sublime. The lighting and projection by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew is brilliant. And there’s a nice blend of modern and baroque, marrying the two through theatrical technology. For first time viewers of Company XIV, you’ll be mesmerized. But for those who’ve seen a few productions, there’s only so much magic you can have before the bag of tricks is used up. There are certainly recycled elements that loses the appeal. Company XIV can be compared to Cirque du Soleil in the sense that there is an expectancy for the production. You expect certain routines to be incorporated. You expect to hear classical stylings of current pop songs. But when you know what’s to come, the intrigue is almost lost. Combining baroque style music with modern pop is interesting but song selection is key. Snow White borrowed new spins on hits like Tove Lo’s “Talking Bodies”, “Leon On” by Major Lazer and DJ Snake, and the iconic “Toxic” by Britney Spears. Rather than aiding the moments, they felt instituted because they were favorite songs of the year. “Toxic” could have been perfect if it were placed alongside the poison apple moment. The costumes by Zane Pihlstrom are astonishing. Between kinky diamond gags for The Queen’s Men to the rhinestones on every corset, Pihlstrom’s design was on point and smart.
There’s no denying there is talent on the stage at the Minetta Lane Theatre. As the Snow White character Schneewittchen, Hilly Bodin defies stereotypes, rocking a shaved head and dancing up a storm. Courtney Giannone takes on the role of Der Prinz, accompanied by giant gold hope and subsequent comedic dance piece to “Chapel of Love” after wooing Snow White. Bodin and Giannone are daring casting choices that own their parts. But by far the star of this production was Laura Careless as Die Konigin, or The Queen. Careless is fearless and is one of the most mesmerizing performers to grace any stage. With shades of Brecht in her performance, Careless goes all out, bringing her own form of heart to The Queen. Whether alone or flanked by the ensemble, Careless owns the night.
Snow White is a smoky and enchanting piece of art. It’s a visual triumph. But when all is said and done, it doesn’t stand out compared to the rest of the Company XIV repertoire. Company XIV has established themselves are true players in the New York entertainment scene. You can hope that as they move on to their next venture, a singular theme dominates a show rather than a loosely threaded fairy tale.