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'The Snow Queen' Theatre Review

By Alan Bresloff, Steadstyle Chicago
December 2008

Another Chicago holiday tradition is making its home at The Victory Gardens Theater.  "The Snow Queen" is a folk opera with some rock and a little R & B, based on the work of Hans Christian Andersen, which is back for its third year.  This wonderful piece conceived and written by Michael Smith and directed by Frank Galati, is already becoming a favorite holiday treat for Chicago audiences.  One can tell that this is a work of true love for Mr. Smith and that each year it gets tweaked a bit to make it even better.

Andersen's story follows a young boy who was hit in the eye by a shard from a magic mirror, which made everything of beauty appear ugly and everything ugly even uglier.  Patrick Andrews is new to the role of Kai, displays a fine voice and gives the character a little more life.  The amazing Blair Robertson will win your heart as his best friend Gerda.  Dynamic Barbara Barrow plays the Grandmother as well as keyboards and has a voice that will give you chills.  When the mirror shatters, Kai journeys to find a place with some beauty.

The adventure we embark on is one of beauty in itself, as told by the storyteller.  Cheryl Lynn Bruce has played this role since the onset and one might say that Mr. Smith had her in mind when writing this piece.  Bob Goins plays guitar and has a wonderful number as a talking Reindeer, and Sue Demel will astound you with the show stopping number "Love Letter on A Fish".  The musicians also include Cathy Norden on keyboard and vocals including a vibrant number about a Princess, Mr. Smith himself, and Robert Arendt on drums and percussion.  These musicians never leave the stage and change characters with great ease, each a delight.

As Gerda travels to free her best friend Kai, she encounters many characters and lots of glorious puppets created by Blair Thomas and Company.  They are handled by three ensemble members who sing and dance as well.  Nicole Pellegrino, Jackson Evans and Lindsey Noel Whiting each add something extra to make this show so very special.  Jim Corti has added some choreography to the production and this show has become a true masterpiece for young and old.  The story is one that children will enjoy and adults can learn from.

From start to finish, you will love every minute.  One can tell that this production was written by Smith and directed by Galati from the heart.  It is almost as if Andersen himself held the brush as they reached for the canvas to paint a picture filled with love.  If you are a lover of folk music, you will be in heaven.  If you enjoy romantic songs you will get what you crave, and Mr. Smith has added a little rock and R & B just to cover the bases.  You are in for a real treat and I would think, as we celebrate 31 years of "A Christmas Carol" over at the Goodman, this production will become holiday fare for years to come as well.

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