At a recent rehearsal for the pop-rock musical "The Snow Queen," actors clad in goggles and soft helmets practice a flying scene while director Rick Lombardo encourages them to bring personality to the quirky characters.
"It's such a joy to come back and work with old friends," says Lombardo, who served as artistic director at New Repertory Theatre for 13 years. His cast for the show, which starts performances Nov. 28, includes Boston favorites Aimee Doherty, Maurice Parent, and Maureen Keiller, along with several new faces. "This is also the third time I've directed the show, so we are making final tweaks to the lyrics and music," he says. "It takes three or four productions to get a new musical right."
Lombardo co-wrote the book and lyrics with playwright Kirsten Brandt, while composer Haddon Kime wrote the music. "The Snow Queen," adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen tale, follows the story of a young girl named Gerda who goes on a quest to rescue her friend Kai, who's been kidnapped by the Snow Queen. Along the way, she meets unexpected allies, battles witches, and learns to fly amid the snow.
"The Snow Queen" uses the same source material as Disney's blockbuster hit "Frozen," a fact Lombardo says he and his collaborators didn't realize when they started working on it.
"We opened the first performance at San Jose Repertory Theatre [where Lombardo served as producing artistic director] on the same day in 2013 that 'Frozen' opened in a movie theater on the same street," Lombardo says. "We thought Disney might crush us, but the opposite has happened."
After San Jose, the creative team rewrote and then took the show to the New York Musical Theater Festival, where it garnered raves and won publication and licensing deals. The production at the New Rep is one of six currently running or about to open in theaters across the country, while another seven theaters have already produced it. Lombardo says he's been amazed by the interest in the show, with fans e-mailing from as far away as Australia and India.
"When we started this project we were looking for a family show for the holidays that would be a little different," Lombardo says. " 'The Snow Queen' has these wonderfully eccentric characters and a young girl as the hero. We thought we would adapt it as a straight play, with a little music."
Lombardo and Brandt turned to Kime, who has written music for a variety of Lombardo's productions over the years, and they talked about how music might fit in.
"Originally, we thought there might be a production number here or there or a musical theme," Kime says from his home in Atlanta, "but the magical nature of the story encourages music."
"The Snow Queen" now has 25 musical numbers, and Lombardo says they have several more they had to cut. The show is described as having a pop-rock score, but it's not so simple, Kime says.
"Our characters direct us," he explains. "The musical styles shift to reflect the characters Gerda meets and the situations she finds herself in."
Lombardo and Kime say "The Snow Queen" is much more faithful to Andersen's story than "Frozen." But while their Act 1 finale, "Flying," may not sound at all like the hit "Let It Go," it does have the same idea, they acknowledge — and a hummable melody of its own.
"All three of us are the parents of girls," says Lombardo. "And at some point in the process, we realized we were writing this musical about and for our daughters. This is a wonderful way to encourage them to find their own voices and be willing to take a different path."
THE SNOW QUEEN
Presented by New Repertory Theatre. At Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown, Nov. 28-Dec. 20. Tickets $45-$59. 617-923-8487, www.newrep.org
Tony Award winners Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole will star in "War Paint," a new musical inspired by the book of the same name and the documentary "The Powder & the Glory" by Boston-area filmmakers Ann Carol Grossman and Arnie
Reisman. The musical, which opens at Chicago's Goodman Theatre in June, focuses on the rivalry of cosmetics entrepreneurs Helena Rubenstein and Elizabeth Arden. It will be directed by Michael Greif and written by the "Grey Gardens" creative team of Doug Wright (book), Scott Frankel (music), and Michael Korie (lyrics).