Snow Queen

Last year, the Cherry premiered its own holiday family show, The Snow Queen, based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale at the Kitchen Theatre. This year, it returns to the Cherry’s own Artspace on the inlet on Cherry Street with plenty of new music and all-new puppetry based on original drawings by local artist Rachel Terwilliger.

The play runs three weekends; Dec. 7–10, 15–17 and 22-23 and is recommended for ages 7-years and up. Tickets are available at

Returning to tell the magical tale are Helen T. Clark, Jeffrey Guyton, Camilla Schade and Erica Steinhagen (as the Snow Queen); new to this year’s cast are Josh Altenburg, Megan Schmidt, Erica Lucia Vecchio and Joshua Wilde. 

In their version of the tale (which also inspired Disney’s Frozen), which was adapted and directed by the Cherry’s Artistic Director Samuel Buggeln, Greta, “a brave young girl [goes] on a mission to rescue her best friend Kai from the clutches of the evil Queen, encountering along the way a friendly reindeer, a chatty raven, a feisty robber girl and a host of other curious characters.” The storytelling is very physical and hand-made in style, a morphing adventure where people are flowers and animals, humans and

magical beings.

As Buggeln put it during the play’s first draft last year, this was an opportunity to create a seasonal family offering amid their more experimental fare. In his words: “Theater can be always doing something new and surprising, which we love, but [also] it can be a tradition, a thing we go back to year after year that grows in our memories.”

“The story is so trippy and magical that it seemed to fit The Cherry’s aesthetic perfectly,” he continued. “I mean, when you’re creating a company that focuses on unconventional theater, there’s nothing like a story that involves talking flowers and reindeer, and flying sleighs, and sprites battling snowflakes to force you as a director to think outside the box.”

Probably the single biggest change this year is in the music, said Buggeln. “Last year the show had two songs, and everyone loved them, and more than anything we heard how much people would love more songs,” he said. “So we went back to that same team: the lyrics are by Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, a national book award-finalist poet who teaches at Cornell. The joy of her lyrics is that she brings a really profound and mysterious engagement with the deep imagery of the show, and of the psychology of the characters as well.”

The music for the show is by an old collaborator of Buggeln’s based in NYC, Paul Leschen. Normally the Cherry commits to working with artists based in the Ithaca area but, in the case of Leschen, Buggeln said he was “very excited by what I knew he could do with this material.” One of the new songs to the production, he notes, is the great diva aria moment of the Snow Queen, which to him was a no-brainer given that Erica Steinhagen is playing the role again this year.

“Everything is taking a step up in terms of sophistication,” Buggeln adds, “especially in the realms of puppetry and shadow puppetry, which are so fun and so central to how we tell this fantastical story. It’s all a little more cohesive now, and a full step cooler. For weeks now the loft at the Cherry has looked like Santa’s workshop, full of people building sleighs and carriages and reindeer and ravens. It’s all just coming together, as usual, in the nick of time.” •

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