Sarah Johnson, Emma Johnson, Helen Driesen, and Sarah Alexander
(From left) Sarah Johnson, Emma Johnson, Helen Driesen, and Sarah Alexander in "The Snow Queen." Photos by Ralph Stewart

Enchanted experience

By CK Wolfson - December 14, 2006

Magic was in the air. The full-house audience, a fashionable gathering in hair bows, fuzzy accessories, pastel-colored boots, "Heelys," and new sweaters, sent out wiggles of happy anticipation - and the Family Holiday Show at the Vineyard Playhouse lived up to expectations.

The predominantly young audience was kept mesmerized for close to an hour. Wide eyes and mouths agape, they sat in rapt attention as the production of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Snow Queen" created a magical land with a colorful down-the-rabbit-hole collection of convincing hobgoblins, shrieking crows, dancing birds, cunning flowers and snowflakes, thieves, heroes - even an endearing reindeer.

The production, which has an almost breathless quality, opens with all the musical drama of "Phantom of the Opera," a result of Charlie Esposito's original score and eerie sound effects. Children pressed against their parents, some poised to hide their eyes, as the wonderful and wild Hobgoblin (Christopher Kann) and his wicked crew cackle and plot around a magic mirror which "magnifies the ugliness of the human soul."

Virginia Hackney and Aaron Duclos
Old crow (Virginia Hackney, left) and Corvus the Crow (Aaron Duclos) are two of the fantastic creatures in "The Snow Queen."

When the mirror breaks, shards and slivers of evil scatter over the world. One penetrates the sweet-natured boy Kai (an enthusiastic Eli Dagostino), whose sudden abrasive behavior confuses his loving friend Gerda (the charming Helen Driesen). Gerda sets off on an adventure to save Kai after he is kidnapped by the malevolent Snow Queen, (played with dramatic force by Sheryl Dagostino), who plans to turn him into one of her snowflakes.

Penned in 1845 by the prolific Dane, the play was recently revised by Elizabeth Wojtusik with director MJ Bruder Munafo. "The Snow Queen" was originally written as seven different stories, the theme being the struggle between good and evil. Even revised, the complex tale with its many characters and sub-plots is challenging to condense in a cohesive fashion.

But under the direction of Playhouse artistic director Munafo, it translates into festive holiday entertainment. The large disciplined cast of exuberant Island children, many playing multiple roles, maintained megawatt energy, and were as engaging as they were convincing. Constantly swirling and whirling to synthesized sounds, the entire troop summoned every device designed to captivate. A particular delight was Emma Catherine Urban as Maud, the scrappy but ultimately compassionate robber.

Victoria Campbell
Lapland Lady (Victoria Campbell) gives a high-energy performance.

Portraying characters eccentric enough to rival those on the Island, the cast of seasoned adult actors seemed to be having as much fun as the audience. In addition to those already mentioned, Chelsea McCarthy, a favorite of Vineyard audiences, brought the house down as both Flower Lady and Ilka. Clark Maffitt, as the raucous Robber Mother, and newcomer Victoria Campbell as the eccentric Lapland Lady, were so animated and entertaining they left the audience wanting more.

It was a pleasure seeing long-time Playhouse friends Nancy Luedeman as Impi, Virginia Hackney as Old Crow, veteran actor John Ortman as Grandfather, and Lee Fierro as the Storyteller.

Lisa Pegnato's shimmering and artistic set design, along with Fred Hancock's lighting effects, Amy Cohn Crawford's choreography, and Abigail Bailey's fanciful costumes contribute significantly to the show's impact.

It is the sort of holiday fare that might tempt one to rent or borrow a youngster in order to bring him or her to the Playhouse to watch their reactions as the reindeer (Christopher Kann in his second role) rescues Gerda, or as Lapland Lady stirs her caldron and summons her spirits. In any case, it makes for an enchanting experience.

"The Snow Queen," Fridays, Dec. 15 and 22 and Saturdays, Dec. 16 and 23 at 7 pm, matinee, Sunday, Dec. 17 at 3 pm at the Vineyard Playhouse, Church Street, Vineyard Haven. Tickets: $17.50, $15 for seniors, $12.50 children 18 and under. For more information, call the Playhouse at 508-696-6300.