Saturday, December 11, 2010

Midland's "Snow Queen" a visual delight

Review by Janet I. Martineau
MIDLAND -- Forget about vision of sugarplums dancing in our heads this time of year. Those venturing out this weekend  to see the Peanut Gallery production of “The Snow Queen” at the Midland Center for the Arts will forever have visions of singing flowers, a princess with hair piled a mile high, and snow warriors with frizzy white hair and suits fashioned out of fencing jackets.
And that’s to name just a few of the standouts  in this imaginative production of an old Hans Christian Andersen Scandinavian fairy tale about good vs. evil. There also is a human crow with an outfit to die for, lush projections of falling snow and falling leaves as well as the northern lights flickering, a couple of performances that are absolute show stoppers, a human river which comes up out of the stage floor, and a Snow Queen whose persona and singing voice is etherial and magical.
Remarkable, given the fact that the majority of the 36-member cast is kids -- from grade school into high school, many of them playing two roles. Bravo to co-directors Kristiina Pilnik and Denyse Clayton for marshaling (and controlling)  the forces in one of the most stunning-looking and complicated shows in the history of the center -- which includes the main stage adult productions with we assume bigger budgets and more seasoned casts.
So that said, let’s get the negatives out of the way. This musical adaptation by Cheryl Kemeny is a butt buster, running nearly three hours! This hardly a children’s show makes. It is in dire need of editing down, and because of that drags all over the place.
There also are a few too many pregnant pauses in the flow of the show -- as in setting up to do a song the way we now watch figure skaters setting up to do a difficult leap and twist. Its mere logistics get in the way of that natural flow which is more engaging to a performance. The fog effects get a little thick too.
And, yes, some of the performances struggle.
But back to the positives.
Costume designer Deana Danner is pure genius and creativity. Think “Narnia,” “Lion King” and “Princess and the Pea” with embellishments. Since we were told all these costumes were locally made, the costume crew must be exhausted and blind. Bravo to the hair and makeup teams as well.
Set designer Wendi Johnson likewise  is genius and creativity with the forest of white wooden trees, an ice rink floor, the two “caves.” And choreographer Kelli Jolly moves the cast well, keeping the dance moves simple but effective.
With the performances, it’s Emma Clayton vs Michelle Wallace when it comes to scene stealers.
Clayton, a high school sophomore, is cast as the snotty and snooty Princess Egomania and Wallace, an adult, as the high strung and devious Garden Woman who oversees death.
Every fiber of Clayton’s being is put into the comedic Princess Egomania -- the way she says her words, her body English, her glances. She also gets a lovely operatic turn with her showcase song. Couple that with her outlandish costume and she delights totally, with her great lady-in-waiting cohorts just adding to the fun.
Wallace nearly matches Clayton’s wattage, watering her limp human flowers, killing off the invading human roses, trying lure the young heroine into her trap, suffering a meltdown or two, with a showcase song of her own and a flowery costume from head to toe.
Other fine performances are delivered by Grace Anderson as the heroine  Gerta, Isobel Futter as the elegant  Snow Queen, Reagan Glenn in all three of her parts (Snow Ballerina, Iris and and Finland Woman), Aidan Montgomery as Kai (lovely young singing voice), and the entire herd of hovering Goblins.

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