Slava's Snowshow Is an Indoor Blizzard of Emotions and Confetti
The Russian clown show returns to New York after 11 years.
Each unhappy clown is unhappy in his own way. We see that vividly in Slava's Snowshow, the holiday spectacle by Russian master clown Slava Polunin that is currently making a mess of the Stephen Sondheim Theatre (you'll be finding little pieces of white paper in your coat for days after). If your kids tear through your home like a nor'easter, you might consider letting them burn off some of that energy with these clowns.
Superstorm Slava has blown through New York before: first at the Union Square Theatre in 2004, and then on Broadway in 2008. That was at the Helen Hayes Theatre (Broadway's smallest house), so this return to Broadway in the Stephen Sondheim Theatre (roughly twice the capacity of the Hayes) promises a much bigger blizzard.
And it largely delivers on that promise, although the show is not markedly different than it was 11 years ago: Sad Russian clowns still waddle across the stage, their rubbery limbs and animated eyebrows expressing feelings more clearly than any words ever could. More often than not, those feelings are tinged with melancholy, although the characters are just so specific in their misery that you cannot help but laugh.
Artem Zhimo is particularly memorable: As the yellow clown, his every movement is wonderfully strange, and a bit he does with a titled chair in a room that appears to be melting made me laugh like nothing else in the show.
Polunin and Viktor Plotnikov designed the alien "scenography," which features walls of snow that resemble giant mattresses. Similarly, a bed frame with a broom attached to one end becomes a ship with a protruding bow. Slava may wear your kids out with his show, but he is undoubtedly giving them ideas for later with his inventive DIY design — but isn't such old-fashioned creativity preferable to staring at a screen all day?
The prerecorded music ranges from the high drama of Rodrigo's "Concierto de Aranjuez" to the catchy silliness of Vincent Fiorino's "Blue Canary." I guarantee you that you'll be humming "Mas Que Nada" as you leave the building. Still, I would have loved to see if Slava and his band of fools could clown as effectively with live musicians rather than canned ones. This is Broadway, after all.
There's an element of darkness in Slava's Snowshow that comes through most clearly in the occasionally creepy sound design (with haunting sounds of distant train whistles and laughing children) and scary cinematic lighting (at one point, a spotlight shines on a rocking horse moving furiously even though no one is on it…at least no one we can see). Honestly, if I had seen this when I was a kid, it probably would have given me nightmares.
Somewhat surprisingly, this clown show runs the gamut of emotions: Polunin himself delivers the most moving performance of the evening in a scene that depicts a young boy saying farewell to his mother on a train platform. Polunin plays both roles, his right arm slipped through an empty coat propped up a head taller than him. I could hear some people sniffle as he padded away to the departing locomotive.
But when you have a theater full of clowns, mirth and mischief are never far away — and they make plenty of the latter, splashing the audience with water, climbing over our chairs, and covering the whole house in a gauzy web. It's great fun, and the children around me were especially tickled by the buckets of confetti snow blasted into the audience.
The curtain call is just so irresistibly joyous and zany that I suspect even Greta Thunberg would momentarily crack a smile, forget about all the trees that had to die to create Slava's blizzard, and remember what it is like to be a kid again.