Created and staged by Slava Polunin
Reviewed by Robert Viagas
Halfway through Act I of Slava’s Snowshow, children in the Broadway audience left their seats, seemingly by magic, and began to speak directly to the clown performers in this New Vaudeville entertainment. The silent clowns hadn’t said a word at this point, but the kids understood the silly stories they were miming and responded to the pure playful charm of the experience by literally playing along.
Returning to Broadway eleven years after its first run, and twenty-six years after its Moscow premiere, this G-rated New Vaudeville entertainment launches a mostly silent clown (originated by Russian performer Slava Polunin) into a world of peculiar and offbeat tiny adventures filled with innocent delight. Polunin still plays the main role at some performances. At the performance reviewed, the role was played by Polunin lookalike Artem Zhimo.
What elevates it from being a mere side show? It is filled with wondrous special effects, designed by Polunin and Viktor Plotkinov, that fill the air with stage smoke, with the seat-shaking bass rumble of train locomotives and explosions, with amusing pop music choices, with giant balloons, and with a wave of gossamer floss that flows out over the audience (and sticks to everything). As the title indicates, the main special effect is the repeated use of artificial snow that falls from the ceiling, rolls in from the wings, and, in the climax of the show, blasts out into the house from a giant fan in a massive and powerful white hurricane.
But even with all these special effects, the true wonder of Slava’s Snowshow often comes from the tiniest of gestures by the main character and his six supporting clowns. The latter wear odd hats with huge side flaps, the source of ample comic invention. One of the sweetest moments came when Zhimo, preparing to leave on a train, approached an ordinary coat and hat on a coat tree. He slipped his arm into one of the sleeves, and suddenly the coat came alive, puppet-like, and hugged him in a sad goodbye. Moments like these, not the snow, are the true magic of Slava’s Snowshow.
The show has several casts. The performance reviewed here also featured Vanya Polunin as Zhimo’s main foil, and the Green Team of supporting clowns: Georgiy Deliyev, Francesco Bifano, Nikolai Terentiev, Aelita West, and Bradford West.
In its previous incarnations, the show won the 2005 Drama Desk Award for Unique Theatrical Experience and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event.
Slava’s Snowshow is playing limited run through January 5, 2020 at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre on Broadway.