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The Snow Queen

A pop/rock retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's beloved fairy tale makes its New England premiere.

Aimee Doherty as the title character in The Snow Queen, directed by Rick Lombardo, at New Repertory Theatre.
(© Andrew Brilliant)

Former New Repertory Theatre artistic director Rick Lombardo returns to his old stomping ground with his musical adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen, a show that had its world premiere in 2013 at San Jose Repertory Theatre, where Lombardo also served as artistic director for six seasons. The Snow Queen seems well suited to a musical adaptation, what with its colorful characters and its enduring endorsement of love and goodness. It is unfortunate, then, that there isn't more about this Snow Queen to celebrate.

The classic Andersen tale is very much intact. Young Gerda (Victoria Britt) goes on the adventure of a lifetime to save her friend, Kai (Nick Sulfaro), from the Snow Queen (Aimee Doherty), whose kisses have essentially imprisoned him in her castle, somewhere very near infinity. Kai must solve the riddle of eternity for the Snow Queen, a riddle that even she doesn't know the answer to. Ultimately, it is only Gerda's pure love for Kai that is able to melt his frozen heart and free him from the Queen.

The cast of nine acts as a troupe, with most playing multiple roles and accessing props from all around the stage — all of which adds a very satisfying story theater element to the production. In fact, it is the earnestly determined members of the ensemble who come closest to making The Snow Queen worthwhile. Particular congratulations are in order for Maureen Keiller and Maurice Emmanuel Parent (she plays five roles, he four), whose characterizations are all distinct and surprising. The show also owes its only laughs to these two warriors.

Rick Lombardo wears many hats with this production, among them book writer, lyricist, director, choreographer, and sound designer. Perhaps it's the fact that one man tackling this many roles keeps him from succeeding across all five. Lombardo's lyrics are often unintelligible and drowned out by the powerful onstage musicians. The musical's book, which Lombardo coauthored with Kirsten Brandt, is overwritten; each scene could have easily been cut in half. A few nods to Boston have also been inserted, including a cringe-worthy David Ortiz joke that shattered what remained of the fourth wall, jarring the audience out of the action. The flaws of the problematic book and grievous score are more apparent under Lombardo's helter-skelter direction.

The actors appeared to have had a tough time negotiating their way through Haddon Kime's dissonant and rangy score. At times, shrillness and pitch were problems. Brandt, Kime, and Lombardo all contributed to the lyrics, which dispense clichéd life lessons.

The snowy stage is mostly open, with two iron balconies on each side that are seemingly made from various headboards. Ryan Bates' scenic design works quite nicely, with the varied headboards acting as railings to evoke Victorian times, but with a Tim Burton twist. Garrett Herzig's projections are generally a welcome distraction when they are not too literal, as is the case when A Beautiful Mind-like math equations start flying onto the screen.

It is the brilliant and detailed costumes of Frances Nelson McSherry, though, that emerge as the star of the show. Endlessly surprising and resourceful, McSherry's eye for detail is remarkable, and the crows dressed as air force pilots were a particular delight. It is only her design for the titular Snow Queen that falls flat (it might have been helped by something a bit more lavish).

The Snow Queen falls into a show purgatory where it is neither streamlined enough to be a children's show nor clever enough to appeal wholly to adults. The theme of this season at the New Repertory Theatre is "identity," which is sadly something that is absent from this production.