Snow Child, a new musical based on the book by Eowyn Ivey, is set to open April 26 at Arena Stage in Washington, DC. Set in the unforgiving wilderness of Alaska in the 1920s, the show’s music draws heavily on the lively string band tradition in The Last Frontier, with songs and incidental music performed by a bluegrass band made up of DC pickers.
Protagonists in the play are a young married couple who are homesteading up north, trying to repair their marriage following the loss of an unborn child. Everything changes when a young girl visits them seemingly out of the wild, and alters their perspectives on life, as well as surviving in such forbidding conditions.
The book was written by John Strand, with music composed by Bob Banghart and Georgia Stitt. We had a chance to speak with Bob and Georgia this week to get some insight into how the music was put together, and they both reported being moved by the story, and the music they wrote to support it.
Bob lives in Alaska, and Georgia in New York, and they had not met until they were hired for this project. His background is old time and folk music, while hers is classical and Broadway. So the theater sent her out to Alaska to visit Banghart, and attend the Alaska Folk Festival in Juneau, which Bob co-founded. Stitt says that she “got to hear lots of different folk music. We got to know each other both personally and professionally over a week or so.”
Their collaboration was conducted long distance, with Georgia sending lyrics to Bob, who then put old time and bluegrass melodies to them and sent them back. She would then tweak what he had sent, and vice versa until they had something they both liked. Banghart said that they built their own language to communicate across the differing musical backgrounds.
Both composers grew up in Tennessee, and became familiar with the country and bluegrass music that blossomed there. But Georgia then studied classical music (piano and composition) in college, and found herself working in the New York theater world, where she has written for several successful shows. Bob was born in Memphis, where he taught himself to play a number of stringed instruments, but never embraced the string band scene until he moved to Alaska.
After finishing the music and being involved in several weeks of rehearsals, he’s sure that the musical theater crowd will enjoy the show, and hopes that traditional music lovers will do so as well. “The music retains the connection to the roots,” he says. “It sounds like Alaska.”
The only samples of the show that exist were taken from ongoing rehearsals. Here’s a video of the cast working on one called Grateful. It clearly shows its genesis as musical theater, with a healthy dose of traditional string music as well.
The pit orchestra for Snow Child is made up of some DC players that our readers may recognize.
- Bill Yanesh – Music Director / Keyboards
- Solomia Gorokhivska – Fiddle
- Andie Springer – Fiddle
- Griffith Kazmierczak – Mandolin
- Jim Roberts – Acoustic Guitar
- Keith Arneson – Banjo/Guitar
- Greg Watkins – Bass
The show will be in previews starting April 13, with a premiere on the 26th. Molly Smith is directing the production which is scheduled to run though May 20.
Ticket information can be found online, along with more details about the show, the cast, and the music.