An interesting Concept of a Fairy Tale

By Iride Aparicio

Photos courtesy: SJRep

JANE PFITSCH as The Snow Queen and TIM HOMSLEY as Kai
         JANE PFITSCH as The Snow Queen and TIM HOMSLEY as Kai

SAN JOSÉ, CAA premier is seldom the best representation of a new work presented on the stage.  The reason is that after any new work is written, produced, and performed to an audience for the first time, the author (or authors) may get new ideas, dislike the dialogue, or decide to change something else. Because of it, all new works go  into a “developing state,” meaning that, for a while, the original show will continue being changed, until it reaches perfection.

 “THE SNOW QUEEN” musical, an adaptation of  the HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN’s fairy tale of the same name,  with book by KIRSTEN BRANDT and RICK LOMBARDO, Music by HADDON KIME, with additional music by RICK LOMBARDO, and Lyrics written by the three of them, which made its World Premiere on December 4th at San Jose Rep, is an interesting concept of the ANDERSEN's story,  (it got an standing ovation) but. like most premiers, the work may improve with some changes.

As presented, the story in the musical was confusing to those unfamiliar with the fairy tale. This is not surprising, because when ANDERSEN wrote THE SNOW QUEEN, he knew that the story was going to be confusing, so he was careful to divide the longest of his fairy tales, into seven unequal parts, which in many editions are still labeled: “First Story,  Second story, Third, etc.

First Story.” In the book,  the story begins when a wicked “Sprite” (an evil creature called a Troll in the musical) who is delighted because he had created a mirror that changes everything reflected in it to look “poor and mean.” If a good thought passed through a man’s mind, it looked like a grin in the mirror.” Wrote ANDERSEN. One day, the young sprites from his school, decided to lift the mirror to heaven to ridicule the angels, but as they carried it up, the higher they went, the more the mirror shook, until unable to hold it anymore they let it go. When the mirror fell to the earth, it broke into millions of splinters which flew all over the world and got into the people’s eyes and into the people’s hearts. The result was that those who got a splinter in their eye became mean, unable to see beauty in anything, only the ugly. When a Splinter got into a person’s heart, that person lost all feeling towards other people and became cold, as ice.

THE SNOW QUEEN the musical, finds a clever way to relate this part of the story. It uses a  Prologue, sung by  a “Greek chorus” of  one actor,  ERIK FLATMO, who using excellent pantomime, and a well-modulated voice sings  “Look Again.” as he dances in front of a huge mirror hanging back stage,

The “Second Story” shows what happened on earth after the mirror broke.  This is a completely different story, and its  protagonists are a boy and a girl named  Kai (TIM HOMSLEY) and Gerda (ERYN MURMAN).

Because these two children are his  main characters, ANDERSEN spends many  paragraphs describing  these “boy and girl” as he calls them,  (they are young children in the original story) specially their relationship with each other which he defines with these words: “Who care for each other as if they were brother and sister.” In the following paragraphs, which cover months and years of their lives, ANDERSEN tells his readers many things about these children. How, during all their lives, they have lived close to each other in two different Garrets (a room on the top floor of a house) joined by the same roof. How for lack of space, they created their own “garden on that roof:” a single pot where they grow roses. How every day, they sit together on the roof  for hours, on their little stools, talking and giggling, as they play silly games. How both enjoyed  the stories told by Gerda’s grandmother and how during the Winter “when the windows were often frozen over, they heated copper farthings (English Coins) on the stove and laid the hot farthing on the window pane and then they had a capital peep hole quite nicely rounded, and out of each peeped a gentle friendly eye. It was the little boy and the little girl who were looking out (and at each other) All this information establishes in the reader’s mind the strength of the bond between this girl and this boy.

Kai,  TIM HOMSLEY,  and Gerda ERYN MURMAN enjoying her grandmother’s LEE ANN PAYNE (center) fairy tales.
 Kai,  TIM HOMSLEY,  and Gerda ERYN MURMAN enjoying her grandmother’s LEE ANN PAYNE (center) fairy tales.

THE SNOW QUEEN (the musical) gives little exposition to Kai and Gerda, in either dialogue or songs, to establish in the audience how indissoluble their relationship is. We see them playing together, once.  Tending to their roses in their rose pot and after singing  “Up Here” the story changes focus to the SNOW QUEEN, described by Gerda’s grandmother as a beautiful lady made of ice whose eyes gaze fixedly like two stars, that appears to people during the Winter. We later on we learn that this QUEEN kisses children and after he kisses them, their hearts turn into ice. After three kisses, they die.

Maybe because the Snow Queen’s story from grandma sends our minds far away from Kai and Gerda and the musical had failed to establish their bond at the beginning, after Kai is hit in his eye and heart, by a shard from the Troll’s mirror and changes suddenly from a kind boy to a very rude man and then he is gone, it surprised many to see that Gerda, in spite of not knowing  where he is or what had happened to him, decides to go alone on a perilous journey to find him and bring him home. Discussing the production with other people, on opening night, we realized that many had been unable to understand  why Gerda left her home to go searching for Kai. Apparently, they have failed to understand her motivation   

In the musical, Directed and Choreographed by RICK LONBARDO, Gerda’s (MURMAN) journey is the best part of the show. All the characters from the ANDERSEN’s Story are there: the talking river, the story-telling flowers, the talking crow, the talking reindeer, the Princess, the Robbers’girl, the snow flakes. The scene of Gerda in a boat floating on the foggy river is magical. Very creative also is the scene of her flying with the birds.

Another plus for LOMBARDO as Director, is that  the acting of all the actors, which included singing, was masterful.  All the performances were good but some are worth mentioning. Among those,  the performance of  MURMAN as Gerda, who in addition to singing her songs in a beautiful tone of voice, was on the stage in almost every scene representing a rainbow of emotions, and managed to remained in character. Another excellent performance that night, was that of  GEORGE, whose short roles as Troll and Reindeer, exceed our expectations. He even was applauded after his beautiful rendition of the song “Aurora". Another good dramatic performance was given by JASON HITE as the Old crow and by actress CINDY IMM in her different roles.

              RHETT GEORGE as reindeer and ERYN MURMAN as GERDA

the acting of Kai (HOMSLEY) was realistic at the beginning in his role as a little boy playing hands with Gerda. Later on,  his songs were good, his trances, a little exaggerated. At the end his acting as a man who is now “almost  a zombie” becase his mind is completely immersed in mathematical equations as he searches for  the spelling of the  word that would set him free (and get him a pair of ice skates) was convincing. As the Snow Queen JANE PFITSCH sang her songs with feeling, and acted well her role as an  “ice woman”  the character that she represented.  

HADDON KIME’s music, with additional music by RICK LOMBARDO, adapts to the story. In sound, the  arrangements are similar to those of STEVEN SONDHEIM and ELTON JOHN. Some of the 31 songs of the musical are tuneful but we could not remember any of them because they were not repeated again. The BAND, ANDREW CURRIER, Bass, MICHAEL BARSIMANTO, percussion made the music sound  good. DOLORES DURAN_CEFALU at the keyboard, played it masterly and conducted it well.  

As a new musical  THE SNOW QUEEN with its themes of friendship, self sacrifice and love is refreshing. The “new ending” to the story, unique. Yet, like any Premier work, it needs to go through some changes before it reaches perfection.



“THE SNOW QUEEN” will be playing at the San José Rep until December 22, To order tickets you can call (408) 367-7255.