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Warm to a cold tale

The Snow Queen By Hans Christian Andersen Musical by Kay Unmansky with Ana Sanderson. Incidental music by Stephen ChadwickA and C Black pound;22

Putting on a musical in primary school is always a challenge.

Typically, you start by teaching the songs to a choir, perhaps even the whole school, snatching bits of time whenever you can. That lays the foundation.

Then there is the casting and the start of sectional rehearsals: "Can Mrs Smith have the rabbits, the aardvarks and the chorus of second-hand car salesmen in the hall at 10 o'clock please?" ("Bang goes my PE lesson again!") As the pace hots up there is scenery to paint, costumes to sew, programmes and posters to design. It is a peculiarly masochistic sort of fun, but also very rewarding.

How good it is, therefore, when you can get such a complete package as this is. Within one book and one CD you get the words, music, production tips, ideas on costumes and staging, backing tracks and cues.

The story is Hans Christian Andersen's tale of the cold-hearted Snow Queen who steals a boy, Kay, and takes him to her frozen palace. His faithful friend, Gerda, embarks on a dangerous journey to find him.

Those are the main parts, but there is room for lots more people - a prince and princess, a gaggle of ice sprites, a gang of lively crows. And, of course, a chorus, who sing all the songs.

The book has the words, production ideas and suggestions, with drawings, for staging and costumes. The CD is two-in-one - play it as an audio CD and it has all the backing tracks (plus performance tracks to show how the songs go) and incidental music.

Run it on a PC or Mac and it shows the piano and vocal score, acting activities for building confidence, composition activities linking to the music curriculum and suggestions for dance. It is very complete.

It is good, too. The songs are varied - lively where they need to be and with just the right touch of sentimentality that parents want in a darkened school hall with brightly lit children. "The story is over, it's time to say farewell. We've reached the ending, there's no more left to tell. Thank you for coming and helping us along."

Crucially, there is plenty of flexibility. You could do a mega-production in the civic hall or church, or restrict it to a cut-down, semi-staged version with just a single class.

There is just one gripe - the studio-produced backing track sounds a bit too synthetic for my taste. Maybe it is better on a big audio system, but I do hope that schools try hard to do the music from their own resources.

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