note: entire contents copyright 2015 by Sheila Barth
Either you like it, or you don’t.
Oftentimes, change is exciting, especially when theater companies put a new spin on classic productions, luring younger audiences.
Many Shakespearean plays have been updated to pop rock, futuristic, gory pieces. Converted Shakespeare comedies are produced as modern-day safaris, gang scenes, or god knows what else. Sometimes it works.
So I figured the New England premiere of Kirsten Brandt and Rick Lombardo’s new pop-rock musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” would be a shoe-in for success. Lombardo, former artistic director-director of New Repertory Theatre, has returned from a stint at San Jose Repertory Theatre, to direct his new show. He also designed the lighting.
Lombardo is a visionary, who usually makes theater companies‘ dreams come true with whatever he touches. However, with “The Snow Queen,” some theatergoers were enchanted. Others were left cold.
The icy atmosphere is enhanced by Frances Nelson McSherry’s pop-art costumes, Garrett Herzig’s projections, Ryan Bates’ minimalist set, and Franklin Meissner Jr.’s lighting. Kudos also to conductor Emily Intersimone on keyboard and her four musicians.
Lombardo leads some of Boston’s finest actors, who shine here. Portraying the title role, versatile Aimee Doherty hits amazing high notes, but lacks the icy cruelty of a villainess. She allegedly commits heinous acts, such as turning children into sharp-edged snowflakes - millions of them - but she repeatedly warns adventurous boy hero Kai, who’s mesmerized by her, that she won’t kiss him too many times, even though he yearns and begs her. After three kisses, he’ll suffer certain death, she intones. She’s fond of Kai and wants to keep him around, she says. He’s intelligent, eager. She wants him to count all the snowflakes in the world but, more importantly, solve her riddle-in-the-mirror - how to achieve eternity.
Portraying Kai, Nick Sulfaro’s voice soars in duets with Doherty and eager-faced Victoria Britt, portraying Kai’s devoted childhood friend, Gerda. To save Kai, who’s enchanted under the alluring, beautiful Snow Queen’s spell, Gerda travels on a “steampunk odyssey” to extraordinary lengths, encountering some unsavory characters and danger.
Amazing actress Maureen Keiller swiftly switches demeanor and roles, from Gerda’s kindly grandmother, to a Garden Witch trying to hold onto the girl as her daughter. Keiller’s equally effective as Lady Crow, a dastardly robber girl’s mother, and Wise Woman of the North.
Maurice Emmanuel Parent casts his own mesmerizing spells, portraying a Troll, Narcissus, an Old Crow who flies Gerda partway to her destination, and a Reindeer, whom the Robber Woman captured and is tormented in captivity by her quirky, knife-wielding daughter (Jackie Theoharis). After Gerda gathers enough gumption to confront the psychotic robber girl and frees the Reindeer, the grateful reindeer transports Gerda on his back, to Kai. Gerda eventually breaks the Snow Queen’s spell with her simple solution - love.
The rest of the cast bolsters this sterling group.
Did I like the show? Despite all these fine points, honestly, no. But that doesn’t make it a bad thing.
BOX INFO: New England premiere of two-act, pop-rock musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” book, music by Kirsten Brandt and Rick Lombardo; music also by Haddon Kime. Appearing through Dec. 20, at New Repertory Theatre, Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. Tickets, $30-$59; student, senior, group discounts. Call 617-923-8487 or visit www.newrep.org.