A captivating ‘Snow Queen’ at New Repertory Theatre
WATERTOWN — First, a reassuring word to wary grown-ups: You’re in no danger of being subjected to the aural abuse of “Let It Go’’ if you venture to “The Snow Queen,’’ even though it’s a musical based on the same Hans Christian Andersen story that gave rise to Disney’s “Frozen’’ — and to silent pleas by parents to let us go, already.
But let’s not dwell on what’s absent in “The Snow Queen,’’ now receiving its New England premiere at New Repertory Theatre, when what’s present is pretty special.
Under the direction of Rick Lombardo, who co-created the pop-rock musical with Haddon Kime and Kirsten Brandt, “The Snow Queen’’ unfolds in a mysterious, quirky, timeless world of snow and ice that is given captivating, sometimes hypnotic form by Lombardo and his design team. Equally timeless, of course, are the themes of “The Snow Queen’’: remaining steadfast in friendship, conquering one’s fears, coming of age in the face of adversity — and not being thrown by encounters with talking flowers and other oddball characters. The easy-on-the-ears score features two dozen pop-rock songs with titles like “Never Give Up,’’ “Suddenly a Stranger,’’ and “The Real Reality.’’
As in any quest narrative worth its salt, self-knowledge is the true destination here. Young Gerda, played by the appealing Victoria Britt, sets out to rescue her friend Kai (an intense Nick Sulfaro) from the clutches of the title character, portrayed by New Rep mainstay Aimee Doherty. The actress once again rewards the company’s faith in her by creating a Snow Queen who compellingly blends regality, glamour, and chilly menace.
Convinced that children possess a special vision — a notion that this production, in its way, affirms — her frosty majesty puts a magic spell on Kai and orders him to solve “the Riddle of Eternity,’’ a task that involves counting and cataloging “all the snowflakes in the world.’’ Those snowflakes swirl atmospherically in “The Snow Queen,’’ thanks to projection designer Garrett Herzig, who also sends equations hurtling across a screen with enough force to trigger my mathphobia.
Meanwhile Gerda is facing her own array of challenges on her journey to the palace where Kai is being held captive. Among the factors that complicate her odyssey are a clingy Garden Witch who makes Gerda forget about Kai so she will live with her as a daughter; a band of robbers, including a knife-wielding girl (Jackie Theoharis) apparently determined to make Gerda her permanent playmate; and unending cold.
Maureen Keiller shoulders multiple roles — including the Witch, Lady Crow, and a wise Woman of the North — and deftly captures the essence of each. Also a strong asset is Maurice Emmanuel Parent, who is funny and touching as Old Crow and also plays a troll and a reindeer who carries Gerda a great distance.
“The Snow Queen’’ delivers a few knowing winks to the audience — at one point a pun is made on the nickname of Red Sox slugger David Ortiz — without going overboard. It’s billed as a family musical, but I think a couple of scenes may be too intense for very young children. New Rep says the show is appropriate for ages 8 and up, which strikes me as about right.
The steampunk aesthetic pervading “The Snow Queen’’ is perilously close to becoming a cliché at this point (Frances Nelson McSherry’s inventive costumes notwithstanding), and scenes with the robber girl quickly become tedious. But more typical of this production is the transfixing beauty of “Alone Together,’’ in which Gerda and Kai, though technically in different places at that moment, engage in a lovely duet. “The Snow Queen’’ is the first show that Lombardo, a former artistic director at New Rep, has helmed at the Watertown theater since he left six years ago. It’s a triumphant return.
THE SNOW QUEEN
Musical with book by Kirsten Brandt and Rick Lombardo. Music by
Haddon Kime. Lyrics by Brandt,
Kime, and Lombardo. Directed and choreographed by Lombardo.
Musical direction by Emily Intersimone. Presented by New Repertory Theatre. At Charles Mosesian Theater, Arsenal Center for the Arts, Watertown, through Dec. 20. Tickets $30-$59. 617-923-8487, www.newrep.org