Howard BLAKE (b.1938)
The Snowman – The Live Stage Show (1982/2000)
The Snowman – Brad Madison and Remy Martin; James, The Boy – Lewis Coppin; Coconut, Jack Frost – Giuseppe Lazzara; Dad, Father Christmas – Matthew Graham; Banana, Soldier, Fred Astaire – Pier Carlo Gozzelino; Pineapple, Cowboy – Darren Murphy; Badger, Scotty, Reindeer – Hannah Flynn; Cat, Teddy, Penguin – Raquel Gaviria; Mum, Fox, Reindeer, Dance Captain – Carly Best; Ice Princess, Rabbit, Music Box Ballerina, Chinese, Reindeer – Emanuela Atzeni; Squirrel, Jolly, Reindeer – Jeanna Blease; Badger, Arab, Reindeer – Alessandra Mazzetti; Teddy, Penguin, Cat – Emily Ayers; Music Box Ballerina, Reindeer, Chinese, Ice Princess, Rabbit – Tiziana Carta; Walking in the Air sung by Susan Monnox; Narration by Joanna Lumley
Jeremy Young (piano and music director); Costas Fotopoulos (keyboard 2 – Strings); Louise Hunt (keyboard 3 – woodwind and brass); Clare Findlater (flute and piccolo); Sam Walton (percussion)
Director: Bill Alexander. Designer: Ruari Murchison. Choreographer: Robert North.
Bonus feature: Interview with Howard Blake
SONY MUSIC CDR 81267 [80:00]
When Raymond Briggs’s delightful book The Snowman was published in 1978 who could have guessed at the worldwide phenomenon it subsequently became. A cartoon film was made in 1982 – the first commission from a newly created Channel 4 – which is shown every year on that TV channel, and is available on DVD. This was then expanded into an hour long ballet and finally into the full evening stage show, which achieved its final form, as presented here, in 2000. It has played every Christmas at the Peacock Theatre for 13 years, so far, making it the longest running Christmas show in London. It is booked in for a further nine years. What we see here is far removed from the original book, and equally far removed from the cartoon film, for two reasons. First of all, there is insufficient material to sustain a whole evening’s entertainment in the film and secondly, there was a need for a dramatic situation to create variation and contrast, hence the invention of Jack Frost, as a real pantomime baddie, and the Ice Princess, as the Snowman’s love interest, in Act 2.
It’s easy to see why The Snowman has become so popular and why it retains its hold on audiences – and it’s not just children who are entranced by it; I have seen it some ten times and I always boo the villain, cheer Father Christmas and, it must be said, shed a tear towards the end when the Snowman melts. Keep that bit to yourselves, please, for I have a reputation as a hard–headed music critic to maintain. The music is a potent factor in the show’s success. It is very cleverly integrated, and on a subconscious level this registers with an audience, without it being either acknowledged or understood, and there is no need for it to be, for this score is as skilfully written, and woven, as anything Puccini or Wagner created for the stage. The song Walking in the Air holds things together – it’s there almost all the time – and what a tune it is! A once in a lifetime tune, as the composer has said, and it has now achieved the status of folk music.
So what do we have here? The Snowman – The Show is a real hybrid, comprising ballet, modern dance, movement, mime, vaudeville and music hall. There are solo dances (a word I use for want of a better one), pas de deux and ensembles – there’s a particularly funny dance with the family cat, with the feline between the boy and the Snowman, I presume that this is the original meaning of the ballet term entre chat! Instead of trying to explain what has gone into this show, I leave it to a little girl, who told me, in the theatre, exactly what the show contains; turning to me, as the lights went up for the interval, she said, “well, that’s hip–hop, now we get ballet!” She knew what was going on, it wasn’t a staid old people’s event it was really fun and had something for everyone. And that is the important thing. You can take your children and they can enjoy it for they can relate to the boy who has one of the lead parts. They can relate to the excitement of snow and the building of the snowman. The adults can relate to wanting to fly away and meet Father Christmas and dance with various Snowmen from around the world.
Whether you’ve seen the show or not, this is totally enchanting. Filmed over four days – hence the cast listing – it’s as spontaneous as you could wish. Sony have, quite rightly, left an amount of audience reaction on the soundtrack, for, without it, it wouldn’t be quite as sparkling; I know the composer loves sitting in the theatre listening to the children’s reactions. The stereo sound is fabulous, with a good balance between the five players. The show is available either as it is seen in the theatre or with a narration by Joanna Lumley, which I find odd because here is a book, film and show specifically tailored to not require a storyteller! But I expect that it will be useful for smaller children who cannot follow the story through the music and action alone.
As a bonus there’s a short interview with the composer who explains how the film and the show came into being. Great entertainment! And remember, The Snowman is not just for Christmas, now it can be for the whole year!
Great entertainment! And remember, The Snowman is not just for Christmas, now it can be for the whole year!