Just in time for the holiday season comes this charming play written and directed by Bruce Merrill at the Manhattan Children’s Theatre. Adapted from the Russian fairy tale, The Snow Maiden tells the story of Snegurochka (Julie Brooks), Roka for short, who is the daughter of Father Frost (Cameron Cash) and Faerie Spring (Marguerite French). Despite being immortal, having her parents’ love and all the wonders of nature surrounding her, Roka is lonely. With her parents’ blessing and a warning to always wear her magic necklace, which will keep her from melting, Roka sets off to the nearest village. She encounters Lel (David Demato) and Mila (Alessia Thompson) practicing for a holiday recital, and the three become fast friends. When the love she feels for Lel and Mila threatens to melt her heart, Roka must decide whether to heed her parents’ warning or take the risk and truly experience love.
Brooks, with her elfin features, was suitably otherworldly as Roka. Demato and Thompson, both of whom possessed nice singing voices and good comic timing, were strong as the sniping, goofy, and fun best friends, Lel and Mila. Cash and French were both suitably parental as Father Frost and Faerie Spring, aided no doubt by their height and more grown-up costumes. French in particular had good chemistry with Brooks, and Cash seemed to be having a fun time playing the talkative and humorous Father Frost. The actors also deserved extra credit for meeting the children in the lobby after the show, posing for pictures, and taking extra care to say hello to the shy ones who were afraid to come up to them.
The set design (Matthew Kari) featured both the snow-covered forest where Roka and her family lived and Lel and Mila’s village, and proved irresistible to the children in the audience, who ran up after the show to explore it. The music (Eric V. Hachikian) was beautiful and haunting and well-suited to the balletic choreography (Lauren Gordon). In addition to Hachikian’s music, the play featured holiday songs sung by Demato and Thompson. The costumes (Aaron Mastin), all of which contained subtle Russian touches, ranged from the familiar -- the coats, scarves and hats worn by Lel and Mila -- to the unusual, the gray suit and gauzy dress worn by Father Frost and Faerie Spring.
But the true test of children’s theatre rests in its ability to keep both children and parents entertained. Merrill made sure to include jokes for the parents and to use music and dance to keep the children engaged. However, some of the younger children lost interest during the longer dances and scenes with heavy dialog. In the upper rows of the audience, this was in part spurred on by the heat from the lights, which kept the kids a little squirmy. Overall, however, there was plenty in The Snow Maiden to interest and delight the children, whatever their age.
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Copyright 2005 Byrne Harrison