Since 1937, when the world was first introduced to the demure and pure “Snow White,” in the popular Disney film, the princess genre in popular entertainment has gone through quite the radical transformation. No longer do princesses sit around waiting for that magical kiss from Prince Charming, while singing dulcet songs as birds fly around their heads.
Today, princesses make things happen. They are soldiers, they shoot bows and arrows, they create their own adventures and they don’t sit around waiting for a man. With women continuously making strides towards equality in every facet of daily life, today’s princess genre mirrors those strides.
That is what makes San Jose Repertory Theatre’s world premiere musical adaptation of “The Snow Queen,” popularized by Hans Christian Andersen in its 1845 publishing, so revolutionary for its time. It’s the story of the young girl Gerda, who navigates a dangerous world in order to save her male friend Kai. Gerda must make many tough decisions, all the while making critically important discoveries about who she is and what she will become.
For the past few years, The Rep has taken a more conventional approach to their holiday season, running Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” to many strong reviews.
The Rep’s Producing Artistic Director Rick Lombardo admits there was never a desire to make the tale of Ebenezer Scrooge an annual Christmas tradition, but certainly a show to revisit from time to time. And the priority of the theatre this holiday season was to create a show that would reach an eclectic mass of theatre patrons looking for a new story.
“We wanted to appeal to multiple generations who wanted to have a theatre experience together for the holidays,” said Lombardo. “We needed to look at the values and themes of the holidays such as friendship, love and community. For me, that is what the holiday season is about.”
The opportunity to collaborate and create something completely brand new took place about a year ago, when the Rep’s Associate Artistic Director Kirsten Brandt suggested adapting the Andersen tale. But when Lombardo, Brandt and composer Hadden Kime got together to discuss a play with music, they found a whole lot more.
“As we were working through the story, it became clear to me that this is not going to be a play with music, but we were going to write a full-fledged musical,” said Lombardo. “We looked at the story and said, ‘That’s a song, that’s got to be a song, there’s a song there.’ A play with music became a musical with 24 songs.”
The show also gives Lombardo the chance to work with one of his favorite actors, Eryn Murman, who last played Wendla in Lombardo’s production of “Spring Awakening” back in 2011. The honesty and genuine truth of Murman’s acting style was something Lombardo had in mind while adapting Gerda for the stage.
“She has a real ability to be simple and very truthful and honest,” said Lombardo. “That was really important for this major character. This girl has to go through this incredible, soulful transformation. Never wanting to have a false moment on stage is really important to me.”
For Murman, working on the show and working with Lombardo again was a fabulous opportunity. And being a part of many shows that went through the workshop process certainly prepared her for working on this show, which has constant moving parts and new challenges at every rehearsal. The cast of 10 has much to do in the show, which includes singing, dancing, acting and playing instruments.
“(The workshop process) has definitely prepped me for all of what is happening right now,” said Murman. “We are constantly shifting and being flexible with books and music stands literally in front of us. I’ve definitely been learning a lot. It’s a big challenge, but a good challenge.”
For Murman, the story has strong, universal appeal, and something that everyone, especially young girls, will connect with.
“There is a very strong mother figure in the show, who puts her beliefs on my character and leads her astray,” said Murman. “She has to break free of that and move forward. The character has to learn who to trust and how to trust.”
It’s certainly a journey the creators have experienced firsthand. Lombardo, Brandt and Kime each have one daughter at different stages of their development into young womanhood. Each experience they have observed as parents helped them shape the honesty of Gerda.
“We saw in Gerda’s journey the psychological, emotional, spiritual and sexual awakening that goes on in girls between the ages of nine and 15, the way they discover the world,” said Lombardo. “With each experience, she gets one small key as part of growing up, and she uses each of these keys to find her friend.”
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
San Jose Repertory Theatre presents “The Snow Queen”
Adapted from the original story by Hans Christian Andersen
Book by Kirsten Brandt and Rick Lombardo
Lyrics by Kirsten Brandt, Haddon Kime and Rick Lombardo
Music by Haddon Kime
Directed by Rick Lombardo
Dec. 4th – Dec. 22nd
San Jose Repertory Theatre
101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose, CA
Tickets range from $14 to $79
For tickets, call (408) 367-7255 or visit www.sjrep.com