It has been more than 60 years since Lexington Children's Theater mounted a production of Hans Christian Andersen's Scandinavian fairy tale The Snow Queen. Now in its 70th season, LCT returns to the icy tale in the world premiere of Robin Hill's stage adaptation of what is widely considered one of Andersen's best works.
In a production of fairy-tale proportions, director Vivian Snipes' vision of The Snow Queen is grandiose, enchanted, pretty and sometimes mysterious and disturbing. Drawing from disparate elements of theater, including kabuki and even ballet, the play's content and form work in natural symbiosis. Sometimes, however, the sheer aesthetic volume of the show muddies the audience's ability to follow the plot.
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The story centers on Gerda and Kai, a girl and a boy who are neighbors, friends and possibly more. Before any falling in love takes place, however, Kai's heart and eyes are pierced with shards of a magic mirror that magnifies the ugliest qualities in people, making Kai's world appear bland and empty. The magical Snow Queen entices him to live with her near the North Pole. Kai disappears near an icy river; his sled is found and he is presumed dead by everyone but Gerda. Knowing in her heart that Kai is alive, Gerda embarks on a dangerous journey to find Kai and tell him that she loves him. This sparks a series of episodic, dreamlike sequences that comprise the bulk of the play.
With such a whopping achievement of visual beauty, intricate choreography and innovative storytelling, it is easy to be seduced by the show's unabashed theatrical splendor. A heavy-handed cinematic soundtrack works alongside in-house sound effects — such as that high-pitched chiming sound we all intuitively recognize as the sound of magic. It is tempting to declare the sound design, like the robust lighting, set and costume design as over the top, but in this surreal fairy tale, more is more. For the most part.
There are times when the narrative flow suffers under the weight of such spectacular displays of dramatic muscle. Simply put, it is hard to know what's going on sometimes. The show's strengths — its mythical presence and strongly archetypal characters — are also its weaknesses. Whole threads of dialogue are intermittently eclipsed by the show's soundtrack or by dialogue happening elsewhere on the stage. Sometimes there is so much happening, it is hard to know what to follow.
A mammoth cast of more than 30 actors, most of them children, are impressively wrangled by Snipes, the director. Playing group roles as snow bees, flowers, a river, evil trolls, wolves and wild Scandinavian tribes, the young actors are charming and thunderous in their performances, easily a highlight of the show.
Another highlight, and perhaps the most visually striking element of an aesthetically wrought production, is Susan Smoot's appearance on ballet pointe stilts as the lithe, graceful, otherworldly Snow Queen, who, despite her title billing, plays a less direct, more symbolic role, dramatically appearing only at key moments,
In fact, embracing symbolism roles and archetype is the key to enjoying this play. It seems that Snipes and company want us to enjoy this play on a deeper, almost subconscious level. To that end, it more than satisfies. Otherwise, it is best to forego deciphering the specific, literal components of the story and to just bask in the show's enchanted spell.