Monday, December 7, 2015

New Rep's Snow Queen Is Good Weird Fun (4 Stars) By Michael Hoban

THE SNOW QUEEN - Book by Kirsten Brandt and Rick Lombardo;  Music by Haddon Kime; Lyrics by Kirsten Brandt, Haddon Kime, and Rick Lombardo; Directed and Choreographed by Rick Lombardo; Musical Direction by Emily Intersimone. Presented by New Repertory Theatre at the Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown through December 20th.
It's time for the winter and holiday themed productions to roll onto local stages, and while New Rep's 'The Snow Queen' has lots of snow and ice and even an aging reindeer in the mix, this is not a Christmas-themed show per se, despite delivering on the season's most important meme - that love is the answer. This weirdly entertaining fairy tale, which is much truer to the original Hans Christian Andersen story of the same name than Disney's smash hit "Frozen" (which also was based on the tale), is fun for kids of all ages, with a score that's got a much more of a lively pop and rock score than standard Broadway fare. It's also powered by a cast of talented local favorites and a beautifully understated performance by the story's heroine, Gerda.
Gerda and her best friend Kai discover the story of the "Snow Queen" when she pulls an old book off the shelf and her Grandmother adds some additional color, but the tale takes on a life of its own when Kai is sprayed with shards of cynicism (in the form of snowflakes) and has his heart and vision altered. With his attitude improperly adjusted, he no longer shares Gerda's love of kid play, and he is ripe to be preyed upon by the beautiful but icy-hearted bombshell Snow Queen - decked in fishnet stockings and garters, no less - who steals his heart and mind with a couple of kisses. She spirits him away to her ice palace and puts him to work solving the secret of eternity, which he dives into with a Gollum-like obsession in order to please his queen and procure another kiss.
When Kai disappears, Gerda sets off on an adventure to find her friend, and we join her on a strange journey where she encounters a host of new anthropological friends (mostly flowers, birds, and the aforementioned reindeer), and enemies, plus a couple of oddball princesses and witches (including a co-dependent mother figure). One of her first and best new pals turns out to be a crow - who also happens to be a WWI British Royal Air Force flying ace. Despite its Disney-sounding cuteness, the character is actually very funny in the hands of Maurice Emmanuel Parent, who takes the part way over the top with hilarious results. Emmanuel effectively plays a handful of other characters, including a troll and the wise old reindeer who keeps Gerda safe on her journey.
Maureen Keillor also excels playing multiple roles - as Gerda's grandmother, as the clingy garden witch who wants to keep Gerda as her daughter, as the evil robber who threatens to cut Gerda to pieces, and as the wise old woman who helps her see her strengths. Aimee Doherty (in a blond wig) has the necessary combination of beauty and commanding presence in her role as the Snow Queen, and her excellent vocal work is yet another reminder that she is one Boston's premiere musical theater actresses. And Jackie Theoharis does a great job melding Lene Lovich and some kind of early John Waters character into the robber's knife-wielding, homicidal maniac daughter in the production's punkiest number, the completely berserk, "I Want That". But it is pint-sized Victoria Britt that subtly steals the show as the determined Gerda who won't give up in her quest to rescue her friend and return him home (both physically and spiritually). Her performance grew stronger with every scene, her vocal work is superb, and in the final scene when she melts the hearts of Kai and the Snowflake Army, she melts ours too.
The steampunk costuming for this production is colorful and imaginative and the five piece band was terrific, ripping through the rockers and playing beautifully during the show's ballads. The special effects (it snowed throughout many of the scenes) were really effective at evoking the bleak winter setting. My only real complaint with the production lies with the book, as there are too many scenes that appear to be jammed into the story for the purpose of remaining true to the tale, instead of advancing the narrative. The songs, while not destined to become musical theater classics, are solid if unspectacular, with the first act closer "Flying" and the show ender, "Eternity" especially standing out. This is a fun, non-traditional holiday fare that won't send you into a diabetic coma with the excessive sweetness, so see it. For more info, go to: