Near West Theatre
Here we are. The first Children’s musical production in the new home of Near West Theatre. To inaugurate the first full season in the impressive 7.3 million dollar theatre, they have chosen The Snow Queen. Yes, it is true that the mega-hit movie Frozen is based on this story, that was originally a Danish fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, published December 1844. But, you literally need to “let it go”, because this musical is a rock adaptation entitled “The Snow Queen: A New Musical”. It was produced by San Jose Repertory Theatre in December 2013, with music by Haddon Kime, book by Rick Lombardo and Kirsten Brandt, and lyrics by Kime, Brandt, and Lombardo. This adaptation received positive reviews at the 2014 New York Musical Theatre Festival.
This production is beautifully directed by Kelcie Nicole Dugger. She, along with her production team, have created an edgy, risky, and thrilling production. The cast ranges in age from 9 to 15, however, many members of the cast transcend their age with ferocious performances.
The story follows two young teens Gerda (Morgan Williams) and Kai (Cole Tarantowski). Kai gets pulled to a darker side by the Snow Queen (Ally Yellets). Even though she is warned not to leave by her Grandmother (Kyanie Vasquez) , Gerda embarks on a raucous journey to save Kai from the Snow Queen (Ally Yellets). Along the way, Gerda meets many incredible characters who either help or hinder her objective to save Kai.
Reindeer (Felix Albino), Gerda (Morgan Williams), and Woman of the North (Jocelyn Perkins)
Williams (Gerda) leads this cast with a full arsenal of musical strength. Her acting and singing are tremendous. She has professional concentration as she navigates through this story of love and friendship. Delivering emotional responses and lyrical gifts along the way. Truly a breakout performance for this young lady. Taking on his first lead role, Tarantowski (Kai) moves full steam ahead in this challenging piece. He is delightfully youthful in his initial scenes, and deftly handles transitioning to a darker personality, slowly allowing himself to lose his grip on own moral structure. His vocals convey a honest interpretation of every moment. Great job. Yellets powers her way through this musical with an operatic quality, and does an excellent job of enhancing the haunting melodies of the Snow Queen with alluring tonality. She handles the rhythmically difficult song “Balance” like a pro. Bravo.
Peppering the journey are an array of wonderful characters that spice up the story. There are plenty of opportunities for these characters to be featured, and the following actors rose to the occasion. Nate Jorgensen tore the house down as The Troll. His wild abandonment was contagious and very fun to watch. Jim Carey would have been proud. Rachel Johanek created a freaky conniving Garden Witch. She had a full scene in which her character was spot on in developing what first seems like a friend, and then turns a bit creepy with her desire to trick Gerda. Elliot Lockshine helped close out Act I with a bang as The Old Crow. His accent and physicality were a delight, and his comedic timing is to be commended. Corrine Howery is a scream as A Princess. She certainly knows how to throw a fabulous dance party. Her comedic chops are huge, and her stage presence ups up captivating the audience. Abby Golden blows up on stage as a rocker chick who resembles Pink, and a punk rock band. She excitingly switches personalities on a dime, creating a hot mess of fun and craziness as The Robber Girl. Felix Albino creates one of the most beautiful and honest moments in the show with his ballad “Aurora”. His unique voice glides through the song of inspiration and direction effortlessly, delivering a beautiful result. Jocelyn Perkins delivers a power punch to the production as Woman of the North. Her vocals and inspired acting drive the song “Breathe” into the 11 o’clock number we all live for.
The fun, or good work, doesn’t stop there. Vasquez serves up a wonderful and protective Grandmother. A feisty and festive presence. Natalie Surdy provides The Rose with a delicate and beautiful texture, and has some vocal punch as well. Spencer Skok handles The River well, providing a nice scene. Cole Emerine, Nadia Evans, and Sophie Hull create a delightful scene of talkative flowers that unknowingly provide the backdrop for Gerda to find her way. Zoe Hess as Lady Crow goes one on one with The Old Crow with hilarious results. CJ Jorgensen provides some bumbling comic relief as A Prince. Angellise Irizarry provides some intense moments as Robber Girl’s Mother. You do not want to mess with her. Special shout out to Kylie Colvin and Hannah Horton for making their Pigeon scene a show stopper. Their timing is impeccable, and they deliver a comedic knock-out punch.
The rest of the cast is fierce, firing on all engines. Edie Barcelona, Raya Ervin, Robin Ervin, Micah Evans, Louis Johnson II, Bryen Kilbane, Nora Loughridge van Lier, Sophia O’Leary, Finn O’Malia, Lillian Ross, Angel Savacool, and Spencer Skok. They round out the company as Storytellers, Snowflake Soldiers, The Robber Gang, Birds, and Castle Workers.
Director Kelcie Nicole Dugger has outdone herself. As the first children’s production in the new theatre, she has set a beautiful bar, and greatly enhanced the product of Near West Theatre. Dugger, also co-created the choreography with Sara Danielle Chapman, that provided fluid movement to the story. JT Buck leads a fabulous band, and did a stellar job of teaching this intense musical to the young kids. Bravo on finding that connection and empowering them to display their talents. Joining Buck is Rachel Woods on Keyboard 2, a Buddy Rich like Patrick Altmire on Drums, and Ryan McDermott on Guitar. T. Paul Lowry handles the Production Manager skills with aplomp. Josh Padgett creates his usual top notch theatrical magic as Technical Director. Perren Hedderson assists on the tech side well, and creates some vivid and interesting video additions. Scenic and Property Designs were created by the brilliant Laura Carlson Tarantowski. She is arguably one of the best designers in the region. Costume Designer Jen Ryan provided very interesting costumes, topped off by her Snow Queen creation. Rob Wachala left no fog machine or intelligent lighting unturned, as he created a fabulous mystical world. Sound Designer Joshua Caraballo created a solid design, with sound effects and many mics that seemlessly assist in understanding and enhancing the story. Props Master Jessica Rosenlieb was right on target. Stage Manager Kate Atherton kept things right on track. Scene changes were flawless. Assistant Production Manager Ryan Wolf called a great show.
This is a beautiful start to a new season. Support the kids.