Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco

The Snow Queen, a New Musical
Energetic Ensemble, Many Messages

San Jose Repertory Theatre
Review by Jeanie K. Smith

Also see Richard's review of Tristan & Yseult and Jeanie's review of It's A Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

Eryn Murman and Lee Ann Payne
Hans Christian Andersen's legendary tale "The Snow Queen" has been adapted for stage and screen numerous times, and has proven especially popular in the last decade or so, perhaps because of the strength of the central female character, Gerda. It's a massive story, in seven long chapters, each an adventure of epic proportions in the age-old struggle between good and evil. For this holiday season, Executive Director Rick Lombardo and Associate Artistic Director Kirsten Brandt of San Jose Repertory Theatre have adapted the story into a modern musical, with contemporary music by Haddon Kime. Sprawling, ambitious, and visually stunning, the musical explodes with verve from an energetic, talented ensemble; but it suffers from a bloated book and an overabundance of homilies.

Briefly, Gerda (Eryn Murman) must rescue her longtime friend Kai (Tim Homsley) from the icy Northern lair of the evil Snow Queen (Jane Pfitsch). Along the way she encounters a nasty witch (Lee Ann Payne), a helpful old Crow (Jason Hite), a Prince and Princess (Rhett George and Cindy Im), a spoiled Robber Girl (Im), Valley Girl pigeons (Summer C. Latimer and Janice Engelgau), a shrewd Reindeer (George), and a Wise Woman (Payne), among others.

Between scenes of Gerda's travels, setbacks and advances, we see Kai with the Snow Queen, whose enchantment threatens to steal Kai's humanity forever unless he solves an equation, and/or a riddle, and/or he kisses her again. Somehow, math equations become part of her evil magic. Finally, it is Gerda who saves the day, with her human warmth and cleverness. She even seems to reform the Queen herself. Many of Gerda's helpers impart words of wisdom, advice, and life lessons, so that we hear a melange of messages. Andersen could get preachy, but his message tended to be much simpler. Brandt and Lombardo expand the story as much as they condense it, and with the addition of plentiful musical numbers, the story unfolds too slowly, sometimes dragging. There are several scenes and songs that do little to advance the action.

However, the ensemble is brilliant. Murman is positively radiant as our intrepid heroine, in a role that seems made for her. Pfitsch, Payne, Homsley, Hite, and Im are all outstanding, in both vocals and acting. Pfitsch's voice soars as the icy Queen, and Im's turn as little Robber Girl is brilliant. Payne nimbly switches from Grandmother to Witch to Robber to Wise Woman, and sings beautifully. Homsley makes his enchantment utterly believable, and Hite delights the audience with his fabulous crow walk and voice. George, Engelgau, Latimer, and Jomar Martinez all inhabit several roles each with terrific aplomb, all with excellent vocals. Many of the ensemble double as musicians as well. It's an astonishingly good group.

In addition, the staging, production values, and special effects are beautiful, impeccably done, combining projections with live action and moving set pieces in a fascinating kind of choreography. Erik Flatmo (scenic) and David Lee Cuthbert (lighting and projection) have outdone themselves on this one. Costumes by Frances Nelson McSherry are colorful, flexible, and often amusing, adding immensely to the enjoyment of seeing actors changing roles. Haddon Kime's music spans the gamut of contemporary musical style, with shades of Rent, Spring Awakening, Avenue Q, and Cirque du Soleil, but somehow it all works; the duos and trios are especially lovely. Excellent numbers include "Through You," "Flying," "Never Give Up," "I Want That," and "Here I Am."

In short, the overall spectacle is fabulous, with superb staging, singing and acting. It's a shame the story treatment is not as good as the production values.

The Snow Queen, book by Kirsten Brandt and Rick Lombardo, music by Haddon Kime, Lyrics by Kirsten Brandt, Haddon Kime and Rick Lombardo; based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen; presented by San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose; through December 22. Tickets $34 - $79, available at 408-367-7255 or at

Photo: Kevin Berne

Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area

- Jeanie K. Smith

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