I went back and forth about whether or not to recommend Snow Child, the new world-premiere production at Arena Stage, as a show for just the T(w)een Scene. The musical centering around a married couple, Mabel and Jack, as they try to forge a life in the harsh Alaska wilderness in the 1920s, has many elements that I think would appeal to younger ages, too. But, ultimately, I decided some bits of heavy storylines and the lengthy run time make it more appropriate for middle schoolers and older.
We learn early on that the death of their child and the opportunity to start over were the impetus of Mabel and Jack’s move to this new frontier. From the opening scene, as Mabel walks across cracking ice, breaking the silence with a beautiful song, there is an aura of both melancholy and hope. It’s been a struggle for them to set up a homestead in the wilds of Alaska, and it has put a strain on the couple’s marriage, but they are determined to rebuild their life after their tragic loss.
When they meet a young mysterious girl who lives among the wild lands around them, things start to change for the better, and joy returns to their lives. Yet the tough environment forces circumstances that plunge them into a nearly desperate place. Mabel, however, resolves to overcome the challenges and make their life in Alaska succeed and make it their home.
This is all played out masterfully by the talented cast, and I’d say stand-outs are Chistiane Noll as Mabel and Fina Strazza as Faina, the wild child. Both gave beautiful performances — Noll brings so much emotion to her character, and Strazza keeps the audience captivated, though she barely says a word.
The other highlights of the show — the elements that almost had me recommending this for younger audiences — are the music and the puppetry. The score, which I’d describe as a bluegrass/folk/Americana mix, both help tell the story and add another layer of entertainment. It’s music that can be appreciated across generations.
Snow Child also contains some of the most beautiful puppetry I’ve ever seen in a show, and the puppeteers maneuver them with such graceful agility, you barely notice them. A large horse operated by two people, a snow fox, and a swan move so similarly to and exhibit characteristics of the actual creatures, they almost seem real. (You can read more about them in this interview with their creators.)
Owen (12) and I saw Snow Child together, and his input is incorporated into this review. He agreed with me that some younger kids might enjoy seeing it, but then added that while Sasha (9) would like it, some things might be “too much” for her — and that she probably wouldn’t be able to sit through the whole performance. Keep in mind this is her older brother saying this. I’m sticking with the T(w)een Scene recommendation, though.
Snow Child is running at Arena Stage through May 20. Tickets are $55-110, and Arena Stage offers a Family Fun Pack: 4 seats for only $129. They must be purchase by phone or in person, and orders must include a minimum of two patrons between ages 5 and 17.