The relationship between the Evil Queen and Snow White in “Snow White and 175 Faeries,” this year’s holiday show for the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, is, as you might expect, much different from the relationship the actors playing them have. The Queen, of course, wants Snow White killed, but the actors are enjoying a cross-generational camaraderie and mentorship.
Chip Crews, 59, who plays the Queen, says he has little in common with his character, the only female role in the cast, which he plays in drag.
“I’m tempted to say hardly anything [in common] at all because I’m such a lovely person,” Crews says with a self-deprecating laugh. “I don’t think I act like that but, in fact, I do understand her.”
Jay Garvey, 25, whose Snow White is a male character in this parallel universe re-imagining, says he kids Crews, telling him Crews is “my mama.” Crews has been in the Chorus for 19 years. This is Garvey’s first show.
“When I’m there and Jay, who’s absolutely charming, I have no trouble,” Crews says. “I project as his rival, which I never would in real life. I don’t want to be Jay. I can be up there on the stage and I think he is a little better looking than me after all, so I just decide I have to have him killed.”
In the show’s back story, the Queen is the widow of Snow White’s father. The malevolence the Queen feels toward Snow White, presented here as a young, gay romantic lead, requires some acting, Crews says.
“The role here is to be threatening and the director has been very supportive about making her not just a bitchy drag queen,” he says. “She orders Snow White killed and is delighted when she thinks it’s happened. I don’t know if there’s been a time in my life when I’ve ordered somebody killed. I’d like to think I would never do that, but it’s a fun thing to do on the stage.”
This show, which debuts tonight in the Lisner Auditorium on the George Washington University campus and plays throughout the weekend, was conceived as a gay adaptation of the classic fairy tale. About 200 singers and actors will be on stage. Rehearsals began in late summer. Director John Moran, who has directed several shows for the Chorus since returning in 2005 after a lengthy hiatus, says several Chorus members conceived the show and fleshed it out together over many months.
“It’s not like doing ‘My Fair Lady’ where you’re presented with a script that many professionals have worked on and all the kinks are worked out,” he says. “This arrives as a skeleton and you have to flesh it out. Sometimes it’s as simple as just making sure it makes sense.”
Those involved are describing this incarnation as “a musical farce.” The evening will be divided into two halves. The first is more of a concert, featuring seasonal favorites like “Deck the Halls,” “Sleigh Ride” and “Winter Wonderland.” A contemporary song called simply “Snow,” which Chorus member Stu Wales calls “beautiful” and “stirring,” will also be performed. Then “Snow White” comprises the second half.
So what does “Snow White” have to do with Christmas?
“Overall the show is called ‘Snow,’ with the first half being very holiday oriented,” says Jarred Harrison, who plays Nancy, one of the seven dwarves, re-imagined here as gay archetypes (the others are Sturdy, Cuddly, Spanky, Hose and Bitter). “Snow White fit in with the snow theme and the mini musical in the second act, it really brings a light holiday feel even though it’s not specifically holiday oriented. But it’s a fairy tale we all know and love and as with all GMCW shows, our goal is to entertain but we also try to advocate and educate about LGBT people and who we are and what we’re about.”
That will come about in a couple ways, cast members say.
Harrison calls Nancy, the “diva dwarf.”
“We have fabulous costumes and choreography,” he says. “It’s very boy band meets 17th Street. The dwarves represent the gym rat, the leader of the pack, the uber queen. I think the audience will really recognize their friends and perhaps even themselves. It’s really just a new and upbeat and very gay take on the original fairy tale.”
Moran says it’s not all fluff, though. The show climaxes with Prince Charming proposing to Snow White, a story point that the Chorus uses to make a point about same-sex marriage.
“Fairy tales always have a moral or a lesson to teach,” he says. “That’s what they do best.”