It’s comforting to know that the Gold Dust Orphans, Ryan Landry’s Boston-based theatre troupe with a drag bent, are in back in residence at the delightfully dilapidated Theatre 80 on St. Mark’s Place. Their first New York outing last year was Mildred Fierce, also starring drag diva Varla Jean Merman, who’s returning once again in this year’s zany parody, Snow White and the Seven Bottoms, which — tee hee — “tops” the company’s earlier achievement and then some. Would that they would return here each year.
Two unexpected elements make Snow White a particular treat. The first is the against-type casting of Varla Jean Merman in the pants role of Prince Charming, in this version a blonde, bowl-haircut-wearing preening peacock of a pursuer. The second is the inspired choice to conceive of the seven dwarf-substitute bottoms as a merry band of celebrity-impersonating hand-puppet drag queen characters. Among the group are a Gypsy-spouting Ethel Merman, Liza Minnelli, Carol Channing, Cher, Charo, Bette Davis, and their butch friend Fag Hag.
The Gold Dust Orphans take a fast, loose, and funny approach to their target, Disney’s 1937 movie Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, which holds the distinction of being the first full-length cel animation feature film. Snow White and the Seven Bottoms is nowhere near as trail-blazing. Expectations are key here; what the Orphans set out to achieve is laugh-a-minute silliness, and they’re more than willing to borrow a modicum of theatre techniques (including vaudeville, burlesque, pantomime), pop culture references, and Broadway melodies to make their show an joyously eclectic and ultimately satisfying whole. I was able to pick out The Music Man, Once Upon a Mattress, and Chicago as among those shows whose melodies have been lovingly purloined and matched with silly parody lyrics by Landry, who, in addition to writing the script, fart jokes, and lyrics also takes on the role of the Evil Queen with scenery-chewing aplomb.
Landry and director James P. Byrne have assembled a top-notch cast to embody their Snow White. Aside from Merman as Prince Charming, Jessica Barstis is spot-on as a squeaky-dirty Snow White and Olive A. Nother is a laugh-riot as the Magic Mirror, a wise-cracking foil to Landry’s Evil Queen whose deliriously scoopy voice is a perfect match for his material. Landry, much to his credit, seems to relish taking on the less-than-glamorous roles in his shows — he reveled in the role of maid Butterball in last year’s Mildred and seems to come even more alive in Snow White after his transformation from Evil Queen to old hag. Of the titular bottoms, Liza Lott’s Liza impersonation is a spot-on standout — he has not only the vocal riffs but also the giggly tics and David Gest jokes all down pat.
For anyone seeking serious theatre, for God’s sake stay home. But for those seeking a naughty after-hours treat, get thee to Theatre 80, where the music is canned, the sets are painted plywood, and the jokes — hoary or no — are absolutely spot-on thanks to a spirited and game-for-anything cast. If there’s one detraction, it’s that the show’s final fifteen minutes rush by without enough of a satisfyingly silly conclusion. The show’s flubbed finale is forgivable though; its plot is not key. The players (and the gags) are the thing — and oh what a bunch they are.