I hate to be the grinch, but the New Rep’s New England Premiere of the new “steam punk” musical THE SNOW QUEEN left me cold. Almost numb. Neither enchanting nor uplifting, the show is overlong, with a fussy book, a clunky, bland “pop rock” score, cliched lyrics, and wobbly vocals, and marked by one of the most “awkward-bordering-on-creepy” scenes on a local stage in recent memory.
Directed by New Rep’s former artistic director Rick Lombardo who also choreographed, co-wrote the book and lyrics, and contributed some music, the musical is based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about a young girl named Gerda (Victoria Brett) who embarks on a multi-part adventure to rescue her friend Kai (Nick Sulfaro) who’s been put under a spell by the Snow Queen (Aime Doherty). This is, of course, an identity odyssey, and surprise: “Love is the answer.”
So how to make that old wisdom new is the challenge. Dramatizing this tale for the theater requires streamlining its many parts, knowing what to emphasize in order to preserve its emotional and psychological arc, and finally setting it all to music; that is no small feat, but this adaptation falls far short.
Tonally, the show is all over the map; not rebellious enough to capture the anger and restlessness of adolescence, not edgy enough to be exciting or challenging, not traditional enough to be scary in the dark way that a fairy tale can resonate in the psyche.
The scene with Gerda held captive by a screechy/weird would-be playmate who forces her into bed half-clothed at knife point, with a tortured captive reindeer nearby was just plain repellent. I felt a chill run through the audience as we squirmed in our seats. Yes, Gerda is captured in the original fairy tale and the little robber girl even helps Gerda escape. But the play makers fail to emphasize the mutual predicament of these young girls, united in their vulnerability and with a deep basis for camaraderie. Instead, their encounter here plays like a particularly creepy episode of TV’s Law & Order:Special Victims Unit.
Maurice Emmanuel Parent and Maureen Keiller are excellent while multi-tasking in nine roles between them. As Gerda, Victoria Britt acts well enough, but her upper vocal register is harsh. Aimee Doherty as a garter-belted Snow Queen in fishnets and dinge-white leather boots, is frozen in a dull part, her pitch sometimes getting lost in the rafters of her beautiful soprano. Nick Sulfaro as Kai lurches from amusing in Act I to tiresome in the endless Act II. I did like the set with its lovely video projections, and the lighting is at times magical. But it’s not enough to save this oddly depressing, tuneless musical. At the New Rep Theatre through Dec. 20.
Then there’s Kate Ferber’s one woman show ONE CHILD BORN: THE MUSIC OF LAURA NYRO, an homage to the seminal singer/songwriter now playing at Oberon in Cambridge. Ferber’s got a lovely voice that thins out where Nyro’s soars, with none of the soul or verve Nyro’s catalogue demands. The patter/impersonations between the songs, reveal the performer without a stitch of technique. Through Dec.10.