Wicked, Grimm, Once Upon a Time; our pop culture obsession with re-imagined fairy tales seems almost unprecedented right now. You can add another to that growing list as Concrete Vertigo presents Grimm Girls: Once Upon a Tease, a new show that not only puts a new spin on the story of Snow White, but, as the title suggests, throws in a few tassels and some good old-fashioned bawdiness.
In playwright Cameron Chase’s inventive story, he intertwines a number of Brothers Grimm tales including Snow White, Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood, putting the evil Stepmother on trial for White’s attempted murder. In the trial, the prosecution (Red) and defense (Big Bad Wolf) present their evidence to the judge, who just happens to be the Fairy Godmother, in a series of flashbacks. Breaking down the fourth wall, the audience is referred to as the jury, although in the end we sadly have no say in the verdict.
Using a large repertoire of pop and rock and songs that include everything from Alice Cooper’s Feed My Frankenstein to Madonna’s Like a Virgin, Chase not only updates the Grimm stories for a contemporary audience, he does it inside a diverse world of music that is relatable. And even when some of the songs are a bit tenuous to the story, they are performed with such energy by this talented and likeable cast that it is instantly forgiven.
A mix of jukebox musical and burlesque dance, directors Mike Kovac and Dawn Ewen have brought together a cast that is at times more comfortable in one but not both of the genres. Fortunately they do have a few triple (or quadruple if you consider the burlesque separately) threats like Rosie Simon (Snow White) and Ranae Miller (Cinderella) who not only can sing and dance, but bring the required sexiness to their reimagined characters while ensuring their broadly written characters have life.
In realizing that not everyone can be that triple-threat though, the directors have wisely casts the show to the actor/dancer’s strengths. For example, Jeremy O’Driscoll as the Huntsman may not have the best voice of the night, but his killer body and sexy dance moves makes his burlesque number one of the highlights of the evening. Javia Selina, Jen Doan and Steph Tintopoulos bring their amazing voices to each of their numbers and crowd favourite Megan Solis provides one of the funniest entrances as the Fairy God Mother as you will ever see on stage. Ben Bilodeau brings a suitable camp to his role as Javier, Sable Strub embraces her sexy and empowered Red Riding Hood and Jacqueline Breakwell is as skilled in her burlesque as she is in channeling her inner bitch as the Evil Queen.
At nearly 2 ½ hours with intermission though, Grimm Girls is in need of a good dramaturg. With his obviously fertile imagination, Chase needs a little help in paring down his story. Chase could spend some time looking at the structure of the locally shot Once Upon a Time for inspiration as they wisely recognize that audiences are already familiar with the basics of the story and don’t get bogged down in the details. This would also assist in providing more time for the burlesque which at times felt rushed which is a shame because choreographer Ewen once again refuses to dumb down the dance to the lowest common denominator, putting this cast through their paces in some sexy, athletic and technically demanding routines.
Kovac and Ewen could also help a lot here by keeping the action moving between scenes (including ensuring his actors know where their entrances and exits are). Being on stage (Kovac also plays the role of Big Bad Wolf) and acting as choreographer (Ewen) is also a liability with some basics being forgotten like making sure the action is visible from every seat in the house, which disappointingly included Breakwell’s final number.
Grimm Girls is an entertaining hybrid of musical theatre and burlesque, but to be really successful with audiences in both camps, the show needs a laser focus. Fortunately there is enough talent on stage to make this a fun (and sexy) romp through the enchanted forest. I can’t wait to see where Chase takes his fertile imagination next.
Written by Cameron Chase. Directed by Mike Kovac and Dawn Ewen. A Concrete Vertigo Production. On stage at the PAL Theatre through May 25, 2013. Visit http://brownpapertickets.com for tickets and information.