'Snow Queen' a step closer to becoming a real jewel
Tribune theater critic
December 14, 2007
When Michael Smith’s new version of “The Snow Queen” debuted at Victory Gardens’ Biograph Theatre last year, a frosty curtain rose to a gorgeous score but a visual disappointment.
This year, increased attention has been paid to the look of this seasonal show (based on the familiar tale of snowbound youth and queens with evil mirrors), and Frank Galati’s retooled and generally improved 2007 production features a new set and a dash of powder-fresh choreography from Jim Corti.
This has solved some of the problems from last year – and created some –for the production remains an uneasy hybrid of legitimate musical and concert-style staging and lacks the presentational polish the material deserves.
The beautiful music, thankfully, remains intact. On a second hearing, I grew only fonder of Smith’s eclectic score – rooted in folk music but rich in stylistic diversity. Depending on the moment, the lyrics can be rueful, humorous, sardonic or romantic, but they’re always smart.
I just feel – and I might as well come out and say it – that the show would work so much better if performed and sung by musical-theater professionals rather than mostly by Smith and his band. I’ve got the utmost respect for their musicianship and I’ve greatly admired their onstage presence in different pieces. But Smith has penned a complex folk-opera here, and he needs performers who can fully embody its characters, not ill-cast musicians who have enough to do playing these fine melodies.
The stage is full of skilled storytellers and players, but not all the singing and vocal harmonizing is pleasing to the ear. The staging sometimes looks half-baked. The choreography isn’t always executed with enough care. And the dramatic stakes don’t ever rise to the heights demanded by this sweet-but-wrenching story.
There are some strong moments – Smith’s gorgeous ballad “Red Shoes” is nicely sung by Blair Robertson; the Snow Queen puppet looks great; Kat Eggleston and Cheryl Lynn Bruce both have powerful and authentic theatrical presences. But this “Snow Queen” still hasn’t risen to its full potential.