Slava Polunin in Slava's Snowshow
(© Veronique Vial)
Slava Polunin in Slava's Snowshow
(© Veronique Vial)
The hilarious yet haunting winter spectacular Slava's Snowshow, created by and starring master clown Slava Polunin and now playing a limited engagement at the Helen Hayes Theatre, is literally taking Broadway by snowstorm. Previously seen in New York a few years ago at the Union Square Theatre, the show is filled with magical images -- including a truly impressive blizzard that blows through the entire theater in the show's finale.

Polunin shares the lead role of a yellow-suited clown with Robert Saralp and Derek Scott. At a recent press performance, Polunin performed the majority of the show, while Scott contributed to select scenes. While amusing, Scott can't match the vibrancy of Polunin, who just needs to look out at the audience to make us start laughing. And yet, Polunin also conveys a profound sadness and world-weariness that gives dimension to his performance.

He is ably supported by a team of clowns -- Spencer Chandler, Tatiana Karamysheva, Dmitry Khamzin, Christopher Lynam, Fyodor Makarov, Ivan Polunin, Elena Ushakova, and a clown known simply as JOHNSON -- dressed identically in green trench coats, black boots with oversized toe extensions, and hats with enormous ear flaps that jut out horizontally. In addition to contributing to the onstage action, they venture out into the audience to interact with the crowd. You might not want to get too attached to your coat, umbrella, bag, and even small children -- all of which may be snatched up by a clown when you least expect it.

Designer Victor Plotkinov, art director Gary Cherniakhovskii, lighting designer Alexander Pecherskiy, and sound designer Rastyam Dubinnikov contribute greatly to the overall mood of the piece, which often feels like you're watching a particularly beautiful dream unfold upon the stage. The set is made up of large quilted panels that form a backdrop for the stage action. For the majority of the show, the blue of the panels serves as a vast expanse of nighttime sky, complete with crescent moon; later, the panels are reversed to reveal a cottony whiteness that helps create the illusion of a snowstorm.

There is musical underscoring for several sequences within the show, including such familiar tunes as Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, the theme song from Chariots of Fire, and a melody from Carmina Burana. Some other selections are less famous but hauntingly beautiful. Additional sounds -- birds, ocean waves, crickets -- are layered into the music, and Polunin and company perform their routines to the luscious soundscape with choreographed precision.

A few words of warning: the show uses copious amounts of fog, which rolls off the stage and directly into the first couple of rows, which may impair vision for those audience members. Some of the clowns' interactions with the audience have the potential to get dangerous; a flung umbrella the night I saw the show could have put out someone's eye. And despite a few attempts at inclusion, those in the mezzanine may not get the full audience interactive experience of the show, particularly in the joyous ball-bouncing that follows the curtain call. However, everyone should still be able to appreciate the marvelous skill of the performers and revel in the most astounding holiday show I've yet to see on Broadway.