Aimed at young audiences, but appropriate for children of all ages, The Snow Queen is a magical first for Imagination Stage – the theatre’s first foray into online production. Billed as an “at-home theatre experience,” The Snow Queen offers a rich and engaging tale, told by four energetic actors, who breathe life into this Han Christian Andersen classic.
The entire family will want to gather round the computer screen or smart TV for this experience. I kind of wish I had younger kids at home so I could watch it again with them, but as a gentleman who has seen 50, I still found myself on the edge of my seat.
The Snow Queen experience is really twofold. In addition to the professionally recorded performance from their stage, there is also a live, pre-performance Zoom encounter in which families can participate. Twelve families are allowed entry into Zoom for each performance to interact with cast members and set the stage for the play performance. As a reviewer, I only had access to the production itself. I can see how some younger audience members would benefit from the interactive experience and opportunity to be more prepared for what to expect when they view the staged production. For a preview of the “live” Zoom experience, click here.
Adapter Mike Kenny has fashioned a wholly accessible version of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale, structured into smaller stories, like the original. In Kenny’s script, under the direction of Jane Stanford, four actors engage fully in the storytelling aspects of the presentation.
Not to be confused with Disney’s Frozen (which is only inspired loosely by Andersen’s tale), The Snow Queen deserves to be revisited and this stage adaptation is as fine a place to start. Beginning with the story of an evil magician who conjures a magic mirror to show the world as an ugly place, the story also focuses on the lifelong friendship between Kai and Gerda. As children, their bond of friendship is clearly strong. Together they sing together the show’s theme:
“The roses die, they fade away
They grow to life again
Just plant a seed
And all they need
A little sun, a little rain
To grow to life again.”
What would a fairy tale be without a test? The magician’s magic mirror breaks into a million pieces and spreads all over the world. Two shards of glass end up in Kai’s eye and his heart. These icy pieces of glass harden him to his friend Gerda and he falls for the frozen charms of – you guessed it! – the Snow Queen. What follows is a tale with a hero’s journey for Gerda, as she traverses the world in search of her best friend. Along the way, she encounters old ladies (all memorably played by Drake Leach), talking crows and reindeer, a princess, and a female bandit (vividly portrayed by Jasmin Joy Brooks), until Gerda arrives at the palace of the Snow Queen to see if she can melt the ice in Kai’s frozen heart.
The ensemble is adept at physical comedy, each have expressive faces, and all stay completely connected to the nature of the story. Each embodies the wide-eyed innocence of young children while balancing the comic and dramatic aspects of the play adroitly. With the cast members’ energies practically leaping through my laptop screen, I can easily imagine how well this play would fill up Imagination’s stage.
As Gerda and Kai, Linda Bard and Charles Franklin IV are charming and completely believable as two innocents, hurt by the evil magic of the broken mirror and the Snow Queen’s icy grip. Bard plays Gerda throughout the performance, while Franklin joins Leach and Brooks taking on various roles – animal and human – with just a change of hat or an accessory or two. Director Stanford keeps the action moving and the actors engaged with a variety of found objects and strange props that help to weave the imaginative adventures into theatre magic. Colorful lampshades help actors become a flower garden; ladders, rugs and linens help transport Gerda from her home to the northern wasteland and back again with just a suggestion.
I imagine grown-ups and the wisest of children will catch the true message bubbling under the surface of The Snow Queen. After all the adventures and encounters with strange people and creatures, a wise old crone, passes on to Gerda the most important message of all: She has a good and open heart, and that is all the power she needs to get her friend back. As I watched this scene, I paused the video briefly. I thought about the ugliness that seems to permeate the world right now. Oh that we can all embrace our goodness and stop the shards from entering our hearts and clouding our vision.
I commend Imagination Stage for bringing this newly minted fairy tale to life in this new manner. As much as I, like many of you, hope that theatres can get back to producing live, in-person theatre as soon as it is safe, Imagination Stage’s online experience is one I will treasure.
Snow Queen Trailer from Imagination Stage
The Snow Queen
Produced by Imagination Stage
One hour, five minutes
$29 per household
Available thru Feb 28, 2021
Details and tickets
The Snow Queen by Mike Kenny . Adapted from the story by Hans Christian Andersen . Director: Janet Stanford . Featuring: Linda Bard, Charles Franklin IV, Jasmin Joy Brooks, and Drake Leach. Scenic Design: Ali Mark . Lighting Design: Max Doolittle, Douglas Del Pizzo . Costume Design: Alysha DeVries . Composer & Sound Design: Justin Schmitz . Stage Managers: Austin Collins, Kate Mozier . Produced by Imagination Stage . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.