‘The Snow Queen’ could become a holiday staple
WATERTOWN – What to do in the holiday season if you’re a theater company?
Something holiday-themed but already done to death?
Or maybe something that’s seasonal in nature that can be staged during the holiday season, but not necessarily limited to the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day?
The New Repertory Theatre’s production of “The Snow Queen” fits that second option perfectly,
and is a sumoptuous, oft spectacular adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen tale of a young girl’s journey north to rescue her best friend , a testament to one girl’s courage, determination and loyalty.
By the way, “The Snow Queen” also happened to have been the basis of the hit Disney movie “Frozen,” and if lightning can strike twice…
Prodigal son Rick Lombardo is heavily involved in the piece. He served as New Rep’s artistic director for 13 years and oversaw its transition from a Newton church into the Arsenal Center for the Arts, becoming one of the top mid-sized professional theaters in the area.
He co-wrote the book with Kirsten Brandt, wrote the lyrics along with Brandt and Haddon Kime to Kime’s music, provided additional music and also choreographed, directed and designed the sound. I believe I saw him at intermission selling candy and soda in the lobby.
The backstory: Lombardo and Kirsten Brandt both lost their jobs in June 2014 as artistic director and associate artistic director, respectively, of the San Jose Repertory Theater when the theater closed and filed for bankruptcy.
“The Snow Queen” had already debuted in San Jose before the theater’s shutdown and then was presented at the New York City Musical Festival last year, winning the Best Overall Production Award and Festival Publishing Award.
Lombardo is hopeful the piece will cushion the fall from the loss of his job and become a staple of regional theaters around the country, a strong possibility because there has been such a dearth of both new holiday and seasonal theater pieces in recent years.
Andersen’s tales have always had very dark sides and yes, this one involves a troll, a magic mirror that shatters and spreads discord, and the Snow Queen herself (Aimee Doherty), who kidnaps and eventually freezes youngsters. It might be a tad intense for younger kids at times, but that depends on your child.
Victoria Britt and Nick Sulfaro are Gerda and Kai, two best friends who live in adjoining homes in New York City amidst roses and vegetables.
They learn the story of the Snow Queen from their Grandmother (Maureen Keiller).
Kai later believes he has seen the Snow Queen and, by golly — and much to his later regret — he has. His discovery creates discord between the two friends, and when Kai suddenly vanishes, Gerda’s mission in life becomes tracking him down and rescuing him from the Snow Queen’s clutches.
Sulfaro has a ready-for-rock voice that melds well with the pop-rock score deftly played by a five-piece ensemble led by Emily Intersimone.
In fact, the voices across the board are very strong. Britt is the epitome of spunk and courage, steely-eyed determination as Gerda, and never taking her eye off the ball.
Kai is entranced – who wouldn’t be – by the glamorous Snow Queen, whose kisses can be inspiring at first but ultimately deadly. Tough taskmaster, assigning Kai the task of counting all the snowflakes as they fall.
And while Britt, Sulfaro and Doherty are just fine, they are overshadowed at times by two very talented theatrical Swiss Army knives named Maurice Emmanuel Parent and Maureen Keiller, both of whom take on a significant number of important supporting parts.
Parent morphs into a Troll, a Narcissus plant, an Old Crow and a valiant Reindeer, and the last two are especially noteworthy, with the Old Crow, played as an aging British World War I pilot, absolutely hilarious.
Keiller not only plays Grandmother, a lonely witch “who always wanted a daughter” and whose spell temporarily knocks Gerda off her task, the mother of the Robber Woman (Jackie Theoharis), and the Woman of the North who helps Gerda get to the Snow Queen’s castle against all odds.
Din A. Griffin, Kirsten Salpini and Nicole Vander Laan also provide valuable support in a variety of roles.
The New Rep has spared no expense in bringing the musical adaptation to life and the production values are simply superb, from Ryan Bates set to Franklin Meissner’s blue-tinged lighting that’s as ice cold and forlorn as the frozen places Kai and Gerda visit, to evocative projections by Garrett Herzig that add greatly to the atmosphere, and Frances Nelson McSherry’s wonderfully creative costumes
Like all musicals, “The Snow Queen” has been in a state of flux since its first workshop and subsequent full productions. The first act flows very well but in the second act a couple of the songs might have been cut – the production has 27 musical numbers in all.
Alas, Lombardo and Company don’t have a “Let It Be,” the uber-hit from “Frozen,” but the score has several bright spots and the frequent production numbers are smartly staged.
With the costumes and sets already in place for New Rep, “The Snow Queen” could be a holiday franchise for the theater, a gift that keeps on giving for several seasons depending on the reaction to this production.
The New Repertory Theatre production of “The Snow Queen.” Based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen. Book by Kirsten Brandt and Rick Lombardo. Music by Haddon Kime. Lyrics by Kirsten Brandt, Haddon Kime and Rick Lombardo. Directed an d choreographed by Rick Lombardo. Set Design by Ryan Bates. Lighting by Franklin Meissner Jr. Costume design by Frances Nelson McSherry. At the Mosesian Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts through Dec. 20. http://www.newrep.org.