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Snow Queen, The


The Snow Queen
The Musical
Reviewed by Kenneth Lyen

Music: Darren Ng Tzer-Huei
Book and Lyrics: Tracie Pang
Director: Tracie Pang
Music Director: Matt Jasper
Choreographer: Nick Winston
Set Design: Francis O'Connor
Costume Designer: Hayden Ng
Cast: Leigh McDonald, Darren Seah, Celine Rosa Tan, Michael Corbidge, Alemay Fernandez, Kusumawati Supadi, Sheila Francisco
Venue: Esplanade Theatre
Rating: *** (out of five stars)

The Snow Queen is a well-loved classic fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. It is about a boy who is abducted by the Snow Queen for her own pleasures, and is rescued by a girl, who, in this version, is his sister. The theme is about childhood innocence, hope, and the power of love to overcome evil and death.

This production is a lavish one, at the Esplanade Theatre. Only matinee shows are performed, as the theatre is used for another musical (A Twist of Fate) in the evenings. Thus, the target group is children on holiday. Indeed I was surrounded by a sea of small children, mostly of kindergarten age. By observing their reactions to the show, I could gauge how successful this musical was in reaching the target audience.

Initially, the children were very vocal, screaming, clapping, jumping up and down in their seats, and shouting advice to the actors. However, toward the end of the first half, and throughout the second half, they had become much quieter, and some had even fallen asleep. This was the first sign that perhaps the musical had missed its target, the preschool children, who comprised over 80% of the patrons.

Before I discuss what went wrong, let me first say what I enjoyed most about this musical. It is indeed a gorgeous production. The sets are sumptuous, the costumes beautiful, and the special features, like the Snow Queen flying through the air, are absolutely magnificent. The music is pleasant and bouncy, and the lyrics are humorous. The singing, acting, and dancing, are excellent all round. Leigh McDonald is particularly good as the Snow Queen, as are Darren Seah as Kay, and Celine Rosa Tan as Gerda. The crow family, played by Michael Corbidge, Alemay Fernandez, and Kusumawati Supadi must be given special mention for their fine comic acting.

The problem with this production is that it could not hold the children's attention for the nearly two hours (with a 15-minute interval) runtime. It took too long to establish the main story, and it started to sag halfway through the first half, and never fully recovered afterwards. Although the crow family is a humorous distraction, they tended to be superfluous to the main plot. I felt that the songs were too long, and some of the verses could have been judiciously trimmed. The other problem is that there are no memorable or hummable tunes. For a musical of this grandeur to succeed, it needs at least one hit song. Also, the motifs for each main character are too subtle. I wished there were more prominent motifs for each of the major characters, like in Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf.

I am glad that the story did not follow Hans Christian Andersen's original plot line. That was a far darker, and a much longer story. However, what is missing in this production is the kind of reverberation associated with myths and folk tales, one tinged with foreboding. Despite its tag line, what is missing is a sense of wonderment, a sense of magic. The way the story is written and performed, is a laugh a minute, with high octane dance and acrobatics, incessant activities, but almost as shallow as a sit com. One example of its superficiality is the use of the rose as a weapon, lit up like a mini light sabre, that wards off the snow queen and her lackeys. The original story emphasizes more the personal sacrifices that both Gerda and Kay make for their mutual love. The light energetic handling is fine for a small-scale production. But this version is colossal. It deserves a deeper treatment, more emotional, more poetic, more epic. The Snow Queen allows for this more profound approach because it is a story with many nuances and undercurrents. Sadly this version seems like one that is all too keen to show off all one's tricks and treats, leaving little room for quiet introspection, and time to savor the beauty of each scene. What a pity.

But, you might argue, I cannot have my cake and eat it. It may seem a contradiction to advocate a musical that has deep insights, when the main audience is mainly preschool children. Such a high falutin' approach will float right over their heads. How can this paradox be reconciled? The answer lies in the songs. You can say a lot of clever and deep things in the lyrics, but a catchy melody line can allow you to latch onto the song first, and let its meaning sink in later. In any case, one should not underestimate the amount of understanding that a preschooler might display.

The Snow Queen is a journey, both physically and spiritually for Kay and Gerda. What have they learnt? And also little Russell Crow? How are they different at the end of the story compared to the beginning? Yes, there is character development. However, I felt that it could have been more. The setup at the beginning could emphasize more strongly the needs and flaws of the protagonists. Then how each one overcomes their difficulties can lead to clearer character development.

But do not get me wrong. The show has many fine moments. The production value is sky high. And as I said, the performances are outstanding. The Snow Queen is a highly entertaining musical. It can be strongly recommended for the family.

29 November 2005