The Snow Queen warms winter hearts at The SJ Rep


Jane Pfitsch, Rhett George, Lee Ann Payne, Tim Homsley, Eryn Murmam and Jason Hite. Photo by Ana Zavala.

When San Jose Rep artistic director Rick Lombardo and associate artistic director Kirsten Brandt were planning for this year’s winter show, they soon realized they had already produced most of the popular seasonal shows (some of them to death).  In order to bring something new to the stage, they went above and beyond: they created their own show, and a musical to boot.

The Snow Queen is a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen.  It follows the fateful travels of young Gerda (Eryn Murman) as she seeks the realm of the Snow Queen (Jane Pfitsch) to rescue her kidnapped friend Kai (Tim Homsley).  Along the way, Gerda comes across many different obstacles in her path, in the form of groups of criminals and magical creatures who want to keep her for themselves.  My daughter described it as having a Wizard of Oz feel.

After partnering with friend Haddon Kime, Lombardo and Brandt were able to turn this into an original pop rock musical, and set the scene in a steampunk world of interesting, quirky characters.  Everyone sings, and almost everyone plays an instrument. It’s a musical, magical show that is perfect for Winter.  With themes focusing on love, friendship and family, it is also a perfect holiday show.  When the show finished on Opening Night most of the audience gave a standing ovation, and everyone was excitedly talking about the show on their way out. It appeared to be loved and adored by all.

There were many stand outs in the show.  I would have loved to see Rhett George have a bigger part (or appear in future shows!) as his rich voice brings the troll to life and his narration sets the tone for the story to come.  Tim Homsley, who I thought was terribly miscast in last season’s The Minister’s Wife, brings his acting skills to play in this show. Starting out as a fun loving boy, he makes a startling transformation to the hypnotized mathematician under the spell of the Snow Queen.

Pictured: Full cast of San Jose Rep’s The Snow Queen. Photo by Kevin Berne.

Cindy Im makes the most charismatic rose you will ever see on stage, and her steampunk flower friends Janice Engelgau (Tiger Lily), and Summer C. Latimer (Hyacinth) were fun and sexy and great singers.  More special attention goes to Jason Hite (Daisy) who also plays Old Crow.

Costume designer Frances Nelson McSherry not only created some terrifically fun steampunk costumes for all, but she made the decision to leave bare the amazing upper arms of Jane Pfitsch’s Snow Queen.  Seriously, those arms were scene stealers.

Now the bad news.  Although the audience appeared to have truly loved the show, there were some issues.  The story was sometimes difficult to follow and had quite a few holes.  If there was any sort of meaning or lesson from each group of characters that Gerda meets, it was lost on me.  From the games that Gerda and Kai played at home, they appeared to be children (and they are indeed children in Andersen’s fairy tale) and so the slightly sexual dream that Gerda has later is beautiful but possibly not appropriate for the characters.  As for the set design, the large video screen was used well, especially when Gerda and Old Crow were flying, and the moon was gorgeously steampunk.  But steampunk does not equal just scaffolding, so I am puzzled as to why something more magical, whimsical or beautiful was not created for the set at large instead of several pieces of movable scaffolding.  I understand issues of budget, but I have also seen some absolutely incredible low-budget set designs at the Rep.  A little more magic in the design would have given this show many more points.  And finally, the changes made to the end of Andersen’s fairy tale seemed to borrow from both Snow White and the Paper Bag Princess, and the last line of the show, uttered by the Snow Queen, really needs work.

Tim Homsley and Jane Pfitsch as Kai and the Snow Queen

It wasn’t the three-in-a-row Outstanding Production I had hoped for by the Rep, but there is no denying that the audience, for the most part, adored it.  As a long time reviewer, I was also happy to see something different during the holidays, and it is also a pretty child friendly show (though possibly scary for very young children).   If you are looking for a heartwarming show to take the family to during the holidays, this is a good choice.  If you follow the Rep on Facebook you will see many deals given on tickets and you should take advantage of them when available.  And if you are on a tight holiday budget, this show not only is great from the balcony and seats further back, but might even be favorable to them – so don’t be afraid to get the cheap seats, you will still have a wonderful theater experience.

The Snow Queen
The San Jose Repertory Theatre
Through December 22

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