If your family is looking for a fun and fantastical retelling of Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale about love and friendship, look no farther than Bay City Players’ latest offering. The Snow Queen, directed by Jessica McFarland, is a children’s play in every sense of the word, as it is both intended for and performed by children, with the occasional adult in the cast to lend gravitas to specific roles. The children attack their roles with gusto and weave an entertaining performance that left my 6 and 9-year-old focus group chattering the whole way home about their favorite parts.
This stage adaptation, an unremarkable script by Ron Nicols, leaves much to be desired, but successfully provides a wild journey of self-discovery for Gerda, a young girl whose friend, Kai, has been abducted by the titular Snow Queen. Gerda embarks on a rescue mission to the North Pole and makes many interesting friends along the way, including a couple loyal crows and a reindeer. The story of a child embarking on a dangerous journey to find something they had the whole time is akin to others in the genre, such as The Wizard of Oz, Labyrinth, The Never-ending Story, and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, with whom it shares quite a few similarities.
Far and away, the biggest highlight of the night is the youth cast, who are clearly having a grand old time on the stage. The top of the show features a quartet of “Little Trolls,” played by Isaac Banaszak, August Clark, Sienna Frye, and Lily Leaman, who tumble onto the stage to a soundtrack of rock music. Variously stomping around, shoving each other, and choosing which members of the audience they plan to eat, they set an energetic pace for the show. Ava Mata, as Gerda, carries the weight of the show on her capable shoulders, almost never leaving the stage, and serving as a perfect foil to Alex Curry’s Kai, the boy who is suffering from the Queen’s frigid enchantment.
Other standouts among the cast are Thad Von Tifflin as Wild Crow, whose dynamic physicality and presence filled the stage, and Brianne Dolney in the title role, who is given far too little material for her abilities and the possibilities of such an awesomely adorned character.
Which brings me to the second highlight of the evening: Erica Tatum’s virtuosic costume design. Erica has only designed a few shows in the region to date, but everything she touches is richly imaginative, conceptually sound, and visually exciting. Starting with the David Bowie-eque Snow Queen, complete with a bear skin cloak, moving through the harlequin touches on the Wild and Tame Crows, who themselves are subtly differentiated in the details, and finishing with the colorful and surprising choices for the Enchantress and Finn Woman, Erica’s vision for storytelling in clothing is something we should all be demanding more of. The costume design was enhanced and supported by Danessa Hellus’ makeup design, which included significant prosthetics, and Randi Dalton’s hair design.
Scenic design was provided by Erin Frye, lighting was designed by David Newsham and Jaleen Davis, sound design by Madeline Brown, and props by James Pawloski. I would be remiss if I did not also mention the beautiful Reindeer puppet, designed and built by Kristen Gray, and operated effectively by Eric Kroczaleski, Ed Mata, and Theresa VanSumeren, which was made possible by a grant from the Bay Arts Council.
The production design as a whole was inconsistent. The choice to use projections instead of scenery was, for the most part, an unsatisfying experience, as the screen was too small and too far upstage to be effective. The use of contemporary music and dance (choreographed by Ally Nacarato) was compelling, but after being used in the opening sequence it didn’t return until the middle of the second act. Moments of brilliance include vines growing up out of the stage, an ice cube strapped to a reindeer’s head, and a bed of creepy, living flowers.
All in all, director Jessica McFarland does an admirable job of creating a whimsical night for families of young ones, in spite of the script choice. She and her cast are able to overcome the challenges of the script and provide two hours of fun for your family during the holiday season.
Bay City Players production of The Snow Queen will run from Dec. 6-8 & 13-15th. Curtain is at 7:30 PM Fridays and Saturday & Sunday matinees are at 3 PM. Tickets are on sale now for $20 adults; $10 students by visiting the box office or phoning 989-835-5555 or going to baycityplayers.com