By Sara Dudley Brown, Theatre Editor
“Snow Child” is a beautifully crafted Alaskan fable about loss, heartbreak and nature’s healing power. These are big themes and mighty mystical ideas for such a seemingly uncomplicated show, but it’s perfect for contemporary audiences who can experience firsthand how forgiveness and healing often happens when least expected. Here is how I think it all went down…Molly Smith, “Snow Child’s” director, selected the absolute best actors and singers possible for this engaging story, namely Christiane Noll, (Broadway’s “Ragtime”) in terrific voice, as Mabel; Matt Bogart, (Arena’s “Camelot”) also a singer and actor of enormous talent, as Jack; Broadway’s Natalie Toro (“A Tale of Two Cities”) as Esther; Dan Manning (the Kennedy Center’s “Ragtime”) as George; the delightful Alex Alferov (Arena’s “Fiddler on the Roof”) as Garrett; and Fina Strazza (on Broadway as Matilda in “Matilda the Musical”) as Faina.
Smith put these seasoned actors in a stage setting by Broadway’s Todd Rosenthal that IS Alaska in the 1920’s. Further, she gave them a beautifully written book by John Strand, and a first class string band that plays bluegrass-inspired as well as contemporary musical theatre music, creating an engaging new sound. That music, by traditional Alaskan roots music veteran Bob Banghart and co-writer Georgia Stitt, a New York based composer and lyricist, sounds absolutely true to the times and the story.
She picked a story that is based on Eowyn Ivey’s Pulitzer Prize-nominated novel set in the wilds of Alaska which tells of a childless couple trying to rebuild their lives there. It finds them in the 1920’s after a year of home-steading, about to starve and thinking of chucking it all and moving back to Pennsylvania. The husband hasn’t yet learned to hunt, fish, or trap, so staying in their snug, wilderness homestead appears to be impossible. They have no money left and her health is precarious at best, since she has apparently still not recovered from their loss of their unborn child. Also, Mabel’s relationship to Jack seems strained and almost loveless.
Then one fateful day Mabel thinks she hears singing by the frozen river. On subsequent visits she actually sees a hesitant, easily-spooked fox (a puppet brilliantly crafted by Emily Decola and expertly handled by Dorothy James). Then she thinks she sees a little wild-looking girl, who sings and is actually wearing the scarf and hat from a snowman-like child she and Jack made to remind them of their lost child. Later in the evening their neighbors (George, his wife Esther, and their son Garrett) laugh at her attempts to tell them about this delightful wild child. Big changes, growth and healing are ahead for everyone in this beautiful and violent land where things are rarely as they appear. What the snow child teaches them will magically and ultimately transform them all.
And THAT’S how they did it!
A bit of a spoiler alert: if you are thinking of bringing young children to see this marvelous show, by all means do so, but be aware that there are moments that can be very dark. Nature is not always kind and terribly bad things can happen to good people. Humans as well as animals must eat to survive. Adults know and have to accept this, but children up to 9 or 10 years old might be truly upset if not prepared. Enough said… Honestly, I was quite simply blown away by this enchanting production from the opening scene until they kicked me, whimpering and wiping my eyes, out of the theatre and I think you will be, too.
Creative Team: Book, John Strand; Composer, Bob Banghart; Composer and Lyricist, Georgia Stitt; Director, Molly Smith; Music Supervisor, Lynn Shankel; Music Director, William Yanesh; Associate Music Director, Jose C. Simbulan; Set Designer, Todd Rosenthal; Costume Designer, Joseph P. Salasovich; Lighting Designer, Kimberly Purtell; Sound Designer, Roc Lee.
Tickets: “Snow Child” runs April 13-May 20 at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theatre. For tickets and information go to Arenastage.org or call 202-488-3300.