Though located in Tribeca, the Manhattan Children's Theatre production of The Snow Queen felt like community theatre. Which is not necessarily a bad thing when the production is aimed at two- to 12-year-olds.
The atmosphere of the theatre (a room with free-standing stadium seats) was warm and kid-friendly. Smiling ushers offered cookies, popcorn, and candy canes, then invited children to roam the stage and draw pictures of snow queens to display on the wall. However, the show itself had a disappointing absence of interaction between the performers and the audience, a usual hallmark of engaging children's theatre. Another missing element was humor. Slapstick that makes children giggle and winking witticisms that amuse the parents were both rare in this straightforward production.
The Snow Queen (based on one of Hans Christian Andersen's lesser-known -- i.e. no Disney version -- fairy-tales) opens with a troll singing about his magic mirror. This song, like the rest in the show, has catchy music by Michael Walter, but repetitive and somewhat banal lyrics by Kristin Walter (who also wrote the book). The troll shatters his mirror, dispersing soul-deadening fragments, one of which pierces the heart of Kay, rendering him cold and cranky, to the dismay of his playmate Gerta. The title character entices Kay to her frozen palace, and Gerta embarks on a quest to find him. Mary Sheridan was charming as the persistent Gerta, but Hal B. Klein's stiffness as Kay made it hard to differentiate between his pre- and post-enchantment.
The play is long (one hour) for its target audience. Bruce Merrill's brisk direction kept things moving at first. About half way through Gerta and an enchantress engaged in a pantomime where it wasn't clear what they were doing or why. At this point the performers lost the attention of the young audience, and never completely regained it, as the plot became episodic with no compelling narrative drive.
Sarah Mairiam Aziz, Melody Moore, and Josh Moore portray the sundry characters Gerta meets, which include a feather-brained crow, an intellectually snobbish princess, and a talking reindeer. Their strong characterizations, with the help of simple but telling costumes (by Sean Sullivan), created the illusion of a much larger cast. These episodes were generally entertaining, but some could be shortened or even cut.
Christie Phillips's set, mostly white blocks and white curtains, was cleverly manipulated to suggest the many settings. The cast rearranged the set as they narrated between scenes, which kept the play moving but sometimes resulted in awkward execution. The singing and dancing were mediocre by New York standards, and the static, repetitive choreography by Catherine Kjome felt like a random compilation of steps rather than a development of mood or character.
Audience members were invited to bring a present for Children's Hope Foundation. Overall, The Show Queen made up for lack of quality with earnest effort that ultimately charmed most of the young, undiscerning audience.
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Copyright 2002 Brittney Jensen