It’s not often I get to go see live theater. It’s also rare that the theater I get to watch has subject matter that dovetails perfectly with the subject of this blog. So, imagine how my interest was piqued when I found out that a local university theater institute was putting on a musical based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”.
Now, I had known about the development of this musical already. The people who first staged it even followed me on Twitter. However, I had never thought I would actually be able to see a performance of it. But then, there it was on an ad on the local PBS affiliate. So, with curiosity poking at me, I purchased one ticket for a performance of The Snow Queen at The Theater Institute at Sage.
Now, I probably don’t have to tell you folks the story of “The Snow Queen”. It’s about a girl named Gerda who goes on a journey to find her friend Kai after he was both infected by a tiny shard of evil magic mirror and was then taken away by the Snow Queen. Now, I have gone on the record before as saying I’m not particularly fond of the works of Hans Christian Andersen. It’s not so much that I dislike sad endings, which Andersen often uses. It’s that his work can come across as kind of preachy and overly sentimental (“mawkish” is a word I’ve heard someone use to describe it). However, I’m sure we all have at least one tale collector or writer that we’re just not crazy about. But anyway, the story of “The Snow Queen” (and to a lesser extent “The Emperor’s New Clothes”) is the exception.
The auditorium at the Theater Institute is a small venue. The set was rather sparsely decorated and the props and costumes were a bit catch-as-catch-can. It was the kind of performance that you need to bring a lot of imagination to. And yet, I liked it. For a little university show put together on a shoestring, it was pretty good. The main purpose of the show was probably to get some drama students up and performing in front of an audience, which it did. Those students also committed to the show and their parts, despite how lacking the production values might have been.
In terms of how well the show adapted the source material . . . Well, it was a mixed bag. I liked a lot of it. Gerda was well-played as the determined and caring little girl she always was. The depiction of Kai’s mirror-spawned curse being depicted as an obsession with “the perfection of numbers” is an interesting choice. The little Robber Girl steals the show as I pretty much expected her to. The depiction of the Snow Queen herself is interesting. I was never able to completely get a bead on her. I was never quite sure if she wanted to hurt Kai or thought she was helping him. So, you can’t tell if she’s bad, misguided or something else. Personally, I think that’s a good take on a character who’s supposed to be a force of nature personified. My biggest problem was some of the earliest stuff in the show. The rose that grows between Kai and Gerda’s windows was played by an actress rather than just a prop. This makes sense in the later scene in the witch’s garden, but turning the rose into a character at this point just seems odd. Also, the way that they handled the story of the troll’s mirror was a bit awkward. The story gets told to Gerda and Kai by Gerda’s grandmother pretty much out of nowhere. And when Kai gets pierced by the mirror shards, they depict his change in personality by having the Troll just show up and sing a song. Then the troll just disappears for the rest of the show. The songs were kind of hit-and-miss too. Some were really good. Others weren’t.
My biggest problem was actually with the audience. There were two people behind me who were cracking up over everything, even the parts that weren’t supposed to be funny. I can only imagine that they were laughing at the production values, which I found extremely rude to not only the rest of the audience but also the performers.
So, would I recommend it? Sure. And I recommend going to see students perform it if you have the chance. Even if it’s a little rough, you’ll be supporting budding performers and that’s certainly worthwhile.