Who better than a Danish teller of fairytales to portray good and evil in the form of hot and — excruciatingly — cold weather? In 1840 Hans Christian Andersen released “The Snow Queen,” and nearly two centuries of fans have rushed to celebrate the gorgeous story in the form of operas, dances, staged events, and movies.
Artistic director of the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse MJ Bruder Munafo knows a holiday hit when she sees it, and now she brings it back for a fifth iteration (and its 177th anniversary) on the Patricia Neal Stage.
Ms. Munafo’s “Snow Queen” is a bedazzlement of child actors/singers/dancers clothed by costume designer Cynthia Bermudes, with additional costumes designed and made by Abigail Bailey, Susie Eddy, and Sarah Spykman. Those sewing machine fingers of Ms. Bermudes’ and friends must have been flying to roll out all those twinkly garments.
To give those sylph-like kid performers their proper due, they were Isabelle Anthony, Lucia Capece, Nicola J. Capece, Madeleine Clatworthy, Dillon Fondren (co-star, playing Kai), Ada Cronister Greene, Sam Fetters, Leela Khelalfa, Malika Khelalfa (star of the production, playing Gerda), Connecticut Langhammer, Nina Moore, Sophia Sampaio, Joana Torres, and Mattie Wolverton. Cheers, children, you all rock!
And if you think they don’t rock, take a look at the scattered young’uns in the audience whose faces are upturned and radiant with delight. The vignettes of their comrades who prance and almost fly across the stage, held aloft like silver bubbles by the orchestral music of Charlie Esposito, conveys to this audience of tots a sense of “can do!” and splendor in their own age cohort. This feast of childlike senses is amplified by Ms. Munafo, who has always worked miracles with young performers.
And now for the story: Two young kids, Gerda and Kai, live next door to one another in a charming northern village that’s not wholly unlike Vineyard Haven in the holiday season. The virtual “curtain” opens on floor-to-ceiling panels of blue and mauve winter woods with bold black slashes for trees. Playhouse muse Jenny Allen narrates from an open book as she introduces a hideous clan of hobgoblins led by a hobgoblin leader (Xavier Powers). The latter promises to wreak havoc by flaunting his evil mirror in which “everything pretty is corrupted in it.” (Well, we know this from gas station bathroom mirrors backlit by mucous-green walls and fluorescent light: Hello, ugly human!). To spread this corruption curse further, the hobgoblin papa is horrified when the mirror is broken into an infinite number of pieces. Fragments of glass are flung far and wide, and our sweet, dear Kai receives a shot in his eye and in his heart. No surprise here: he becomes churlish. His friend Gerda is devastated.
The next big twist is that snug in Grandfather’s (John Ortman) hut at night, he hears his name called out. It’s the beautiful and cruel Snow Queen (Anna Yukevich) drawing him out.
And what does this ice goddess symbolize, you might ask? Clearly something crucial to our human predicament is being exposed. As a piece of historical data, Hans Christian Andersen had fallen in love with a famous singer of the day, Jenny Lind. Jenny did not reciprocate, and hence Mr. H.C. Andersen felt rejected by his own snow queen. But for those of us who never knew Ms. Lind, there’s a deeper meaning at play.
On a cold night in a snowy climate, a glance out the window at the spooky trees, and under a sky of stars punched through a black scrim of sky (a shout-out to original set designers Lisa Pegnato, Steve Zablotny, Jenik Munafo, and Sally Cohn; additional scenic elements were created this year by Paul Munafo and Lauren Josephs, plus lighting designer Jeffrey E. Salzberg added his expertise), a view such as this puts us in mind of Death in the figure of the sparkling Snow Queen. When this hauntingly beautiful lady calls to you through flecks of snow, you too might feel hypnotized — and cold enough — to fly to her, as does poor young Kai.
The tale is a Nordic saga that hustles us along to one vignette after the next, one of sad blossoms brainwashed by a shady Flower Lady (Kristina Kinsman Maynard); then over to three lovable crows (Ali Saiff, Alexander Campbell, and Nina Moore) providing avian oomph to guide Gerda on her path. Next up is Luis Armando Rodriguez Garcia, who arrives to save the day as Reindeer, with a Lapland accent and a funny, rubbery physique to propel Gerda off to the wicked witch country of the north to find her poor Kai.
Jill Macy as Ilka and Debbie Hart as Impi turn in a sweet scene as two knitting, Finnish ladies. Cue the wild-haired Chelsea McCarthy as the mad Lapland Lady with her nuggets about the looming confrontation with the Snow Queen. No spoiler alerts here, just more gold stars to the people behind this panoramic production: Ms. Munafo and Elizabeth Wojtusik, who co-wrote the piece; Christian Ruiz, stage manager; costume assistant Paris Bermudes; sound tech JB Lamont, and choreographer (woo! woo! great job!) Toni Cohen. If I left anybody out, drop me from your Christmas card list.
‘The Snow Queen’ plays through Dec. 17. For more details about this and other productions offered during the mistletoe season, go to mvplayhouse.org.