“East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” a new musical based on a Norse fairy tale is a story of love, loss and bears. with book and lyrics by Lydia Gordon and music by Christopher Dunn-Rankin,
Asbjorn (Travis Austin Wright) is a youthful prince trapped in an arranged marriage to a Princess (Jessica Kahkoska) he does not love. When he appeals for his freedom, the cynical Queen (Alima Belconis) tells him he may go out into the world to seek true love, but that he must disguise himself as a bear and that his true love must never see his human face. An outlandish fantasy premise to be sure, but really not all that different from online dating.
He finds his true love in the form of a commoner girl named Freja (Rochelle Therrien) and complications ensue.
A musical hinges on the music and unfortunately Christopher Dunn-Rankin’s score is uneven. It achieves inspiration on rare occasions but is more often cloying and repetitive, contributing to director K. Hannah Friedman’s overall dragging pace. Lydia Gordon’s lyrics are similarly flat. Her dialogue (she also wrote the book) does show flashes of wit and Wright in particular strives to inject some levity into the proceedings, but for the most part, the show is crippled by its self-serious tone. The fairy tale lovers are pretty bland, it’s the jilted Princess who inspires the most sympathy. Her number “Not a Memory” has by far the most life of any of the songs.
A fairy tale should stay with you, it should penetrate the heart. “East” is instead fairly generic and forgettable. I really wanted to enjoy it, and there were moments when I did, but it is at best a noble failure.