Her voice, haunting and spectacular, cut through the opening-night silence as we sat, spellbound. As The Snow Queen’s title character in the Arden’s current children’s show, Katherine Fried was flawless. Sure, the character she portrayed was sinister, but the performer was captivating.
Treat your inner child
Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale has been adapted at least a dozen different ways, yet something about the nuances of this particular play made it wonderfully distinct. This telling of The Snow Queen, written by Charles Way and directed by Whit MacLaughlin, tells the story of an icy-hearted villain and a pair of faithful friends. It’s a familiar tale, conveyed in an unfamiliar way.
I’m pretty sure I was the only adult in the audience who attended without a kid, but it didn’t matter. My own inner child was in her element. I watched the seasons change before my eyes as a dynamic cast embodied these alterations, transitioning from character to character without ever breaking the fourth wall—even though it would’ve been all too easy to do with an audience of oohing, aahing, and exclaiming children.
A top-notch ensemble
Kala Moses Baxter, a gifted singer and storyteller, is at ease portraying Grandmother, Mrs. Dear, and Robber Woman with a depth and breadth that made her believable in every role. Jo Vito Ramirez morphs from a fun-spirited friend to a narcissistic flower to a swaggering prince with passion and panache. Jenna Kuerzi is a dynamic actor who embodies each of her roles with grace and animation, making clear emotional choices and enthralling all ages in the audience.
Mary Fishburne’s performance is pitch-perfect. She seems lit up from the inside in a way that makes it easy to believe she’s a loving mother, a precocious princess, and a wise and radiant rose. But her ability to move from character to character, her violin on her shoulder, playing and singing as she interweaves the magic of Way’s dialogue with the beauty of her music, is something you’ll have to see to appreciate. A likewise versatile Alex Bechtel strums through many of his scenes on the guitar.
Eunice Akinola is ideally cast as Gerda, a huge-hearted girl who loves so deeply that she is willing to risk her life for a friend. From joy and sadness to fear and hope, Akinola’s emotional performance drives home the humanity of the play. Cei (Daniel Ison) is a whimsical, fun-loving young man who loses himself after the icy shards of the Snow Queen’s vanity touch him. A likeable and vivacious actor, Ison pulls us into his story, gluing the audience to the edge of our seats.
MacLaughlin’s in-the-round staging gets extra magic from David P. Gordon’s sets and Olivera Gajic’s costumes, with a soundscape from Christopher Colucci and lights by Thom Weaver. The Snow Queen marks MacLaughlin’s 20th directorial endeavor at the Arden, and his skill and experience is palpable in this thoughtful execution of Way’s adaptation of the Andersen classic. If you have young people in your life, or if you don’t, check out The Snow Queen this winter, because we could all use more of the magic of fairytales in our lives.
What, When, Where
The Snow Queen. Adapted by Charles Way from the story by Hans Christian Andersen. Directed by Whit MacLaughlin. Through January 26, 2020, at the Arden Theatre, 40 N. 2nd St., Philadelphia. (215) 922-1122 or ardentheatre.org.
The Arden is an ADA-compliant venue. There will be ASL-interpreted performances of The Snow Queen on January 17 at 10am and January 18 at 4pm.