Snow White – Winter Family Musical

State Theatre, July 4

Magda Szubanski and ensemble. Photo: Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

Magda Szubanski and ensemble. Photo: Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

The Christmas pantomime is a popular British tradition. After success in the US, Bonnie Lythgoe hopes to introduce an annual panto here. If her first production, Snow White – Winter Family Musical, is anything to go by, she could be onto a winner.

Snow White takes the time-honoured panto formula and gives it a contemporary shake, adding pop songs by the likes of One Direction and Michael Jackson, and lacing the script with just enough local references and topical jokes for both adults and children.

The costumes and old-school painted backdrops hark back to classic panto, giving the show a nostalgic charm, and look great.

On opening night, the performers quickly involved the audience who entered into the spirit of it with gusto, booing the Wicked Queen, shouting to warn Snow White not to eat the apple, and shrieking during the famous ghost gag.

Lythgoe, who produces and directs, has cast the show cleverly with celebrities and actors who understand the performance style. Magda Szubanski, in particular, is fabulous as the wicked Queen Grismalda, interacting with the audience with quick-smart ease.

Josh Adamson, Peter Everett and Jimmy Rees. Photo: Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

Josh Adamson, Peter Everett and Jimmy Rees. Photo: Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

Jimmy Rees (aka Jimmy Giggle from the ABC TV show Giggle & Hoot) also nails it as the hapless jester Muddles, who is hopelessly devoted to Snow White. Both of them pitch their performances perfectly, mining every ounce of comedy without overdoing it.

Newcomer Erin Clare (who was discovered during a national search for an unknown performer to play the role) shines as Snow White, embodying just the kind of fairytale heroine that little children imagine. Peter Everett is endearing as Chambers, loyal courtier and friend to Snow White, Andrew Cutcliffe is suitably dashing as Prince Handsome, and Josh Adamson has the right swagger as Herman the Huntsman. Sir Cliff Richard and Kyle Sandilands lend strong support as the Queen’s (pre-recorded) two-faced mirror.

The seven dwarves are played by children in cartoony heads, straight out of a picture book or animated film, which works surprisingly well.

Erin Clare with the seven dwarves. Photo: Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

Erin Clare with the seven dwarves. Photo: Kurt Sneddon, Blueprint Studios

Running just over two hours including interval, Snow White does feel a little long at times, particularly the extended ghost gag. The odd nip and tuck wouldn’t hurt. However, the three little girls in front of us, who ranged in age from around three to six, clearly had a wonderful time and hardly a restless moment.

In Lythgoe’s care, Snow White is good old-fashioned entertainment and great fun for all the family. “Oh no it isn’t! Oh YES it is!”

Snow White – Winter Family Musical plays at Sydney’s State Theatre until July 13. Bookings: or 136 100

A version of this review ran in the Sunday Telegraph on July 6

Magda turns wicked; Bonnie searches for Snow White

Magda Szubanski. Photo: supplied

Magda Szubanski. Photo: supplied

When Magda Szubanski agreed to feature in Snow White – Winter Family Musical, Bonnie Lythgoe couldn’t contain her excitement as another part of her “dream team” fell into place.

“I was waiting with bated breath to find out if she’d do it. I can’t tell you how happy I am,” says Lythgoe, who was a judge on the first three series of So You Think You Can Dance Australia.

As revealed exclusively in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, Szubanski will play the Wicked Queen in Lythgoe’s contemporary pantomime spectacular (co-produced with David and Lisa Campbell’s Luckiest Productions), which has a short season at Sydney’s State Theatre in July.

“I haven’t done a panto before but I’ve always thought it would be terrific fun,” says Szubanski. “I did do A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum with Geoffrey Rush. That was rather like a panto and that was tremendous fun.”

“We haven’t really done a lot of (pantos) here but the tradition they have in Britain is so popular that I thought it would be a hoot to do. I don’t think you can underestimate how joyous these things are.”

Szubanski is looking forward to playing the villain. “One of the dwarves was the role I was after – but I think I’m too short to play a dwarf,” quips the much-loved actor/comedian.

Szubanski joins a celebrity-studded cast that includes the unlikely pairing of Kyle Sandilands and Sir Cliff Richard as the two (pre-recorded) faces of the Wicked Queen’s magic mirror. Naturally Sandilands is the nasty Mirror Disgruntled while Richard is the kindly Mirror Enchanted.

Jimmy Giggle (aka James Rees) from the ABC-TV children’s show Giggle and Hoot will play Snow White’s best friend Muddles and TV host Peter Everett, recently seen on Celebrity Apprentice, is her guardian Chambers.

The huntsman is played by Josh Adamson, an Australian performer currently living in the US, who performed in Lythgoe’s panto Aladdin and his Winter’s Wish at the Pasadena Playhouse in December. The role of the Prince is still to be announced – but is likely to be another name.

However, Lythgoe is offering a complete unknown the chance to land the starring role. Later this month, she and a team of celebrity judges will embark on a nationwide search for an actress, aged 16 to 26, to play Snow White. Pant O-Z Factor: The Search for Snow White, will be filmed and covered by the media.

The auditions will take place at Westfield shopping centres around the country (see details below), where the various judging panels will include people like Sonia Kruger, David Campbell, Matt Lee and Prinnie Stevens among others.

Bonnie Lythgoe auditioning for one of her pantos in the US. Photo: supplied

Bonnie Lythgoe auditioning for one of her pantos in the US. Photo: supplied

Lythgoe has been staging pantos in the US with great success for several years now and has already produced Snow White there with Neil Patrick Harris as the Magic Mirror. The shows combine the British panto tradition (“he’s behind you!”) with contemporary pop songs.

For the Sydney production she says she is looking for a leading lady who is “a little bit more feisty” than the Disney heroine “but a lovely, warm, friendly person.

“I’m looking for raw talent. I don’t want somebody who has been working for five years,” says Lythgoe. “She needs to sing well, to believe in the character she’s playing and be real. She also needs to move well but she doesn’t need to be a fantastic dancer.”

As well as playing the Wicked Queen, Szubanski has been enlisted as a co-writer to ensure the comedy speaks to Australian audiences and promises there will be “fun jokes for all the family”.

“It’s like the stuff we did with Fast Forward where there’s the colour and movement for the kids and then slightly more sophisticated (or not!) elements for the adults, so I think it will be really fun” says Szubanski. “My Mum who is 89 is saying, ‘Oh! I’ll pop up to Sydney to see that.’”

Pant O-Z Factor: The Search for Snow White auditions will be held at:

Saturday February 22, Westfield Marion, Adelaide

Saturday March 8 at Westfield Chermside, Brisbane

Sunday March 9 at Westfield Chermside, Brisbane

Saturday March 15, Westfield Southland, Melbourne

Sunday March 16, Westfield Knox, Melbourne

Saturday March 22, Westfield Parramatta, Sydney

Sunday March 23, Westfield Hurstville, Sydney

Auditions will be held from 9am to 5pm each day. People wanting to audition should arrive at 8am on the day to register. More information about the show can be found at Bonnie Lythgoe’s website

Snow White – Winter Family Musical plays at the State Theatre in Sydney, July 4 – 13. Bookings: or 1300 139 588