There’s no truth to the rumor that Scrooge demanded time off to pursue a career as a political consultant. The real story is that director Anita Stewart simply wanted to try something new for this year’s holiday production at Portland Stage. She chose well.

“The Snow Queen,” a play based on the famous Hans Christian Andersen story, opened on Friday night to an audience including many small children. The lack of the chatter and squirming that often go with a youthful audience is one measure of what an absorbing and delightful show this is — and not only for the kids.

The fun that it must have been to put this show together, not to mention the hard work, comes through loud and clear in the finished product.

The sets, designed by Stewart, make extensive use of scrims and projections to create realms within realms as the young heroine, played by Lauren Orkus, goes on a wildly adventurous journey to find her friend who has been lured to the castle of The Snow Queen.

Orkus’ Gerda is at the center of most of the action. The youthful actress was excellent as an innocent abroad who nonetheless summons much courage as she battles the elements, natural and human.

Challenged at one point by a band of cutthroat robbers, she eventually befriends the Robber Princess, played by Portland Stage veteran Sally Wood. Wood had a lot of fun with the role and got some of the biggest laughs of the evening with her roguish bluster.

Patricia Buckley plays the chilly Queen whose multilayered white costume, designed by Susan Thomas, adds to her spooky presence. Buckley also got to double, this time in a flowery red outfit, as a bewitching gardener.

Ian Carlsen plays the young man under the Queen’s control. Carlsen easily conveyed that his Kai is really a darling at heart, once his heart is thawed out.

Daniel Noel provides narration, at times with welcome touches of comedic attitude, and doubles as a reindeer who provides crucial help in getting to the castle.

Original music by Hans Indigo Spencer, with lyrics interestingly borrowed from Emily Dickinson, add to the magical atmosphere as many eccentric characters are drawn into the story.

Even talking flowers (particularly memorable are some oblivious daisies) and crows are encountered in the quest. As one of the latter, Tom Ford is a swooping sweetheart in guiding the heroine.

A strong supporting cast and a nice ensemble concept helps to make this show truly fun for all ages while gently delivering a moral message, as all good tales should.

Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.


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