Chimney Sweep

Disney Lets It Go With Frozen on Broadway

Disney has set a high bar for spectacle on Broadway. Whether we see an elephant marching down the aisle in The Lion King, a chimney sweep dancing upside down on the proscenium in Mary Poppins or a magic carpet fly in Aladdin, our jaws can often be found on the floor at a Disney show. So I’m disappointed to report that my newest version for Disney’s was firmly anchored: Frozen at the St. James Theater. Frozen is a wonderful Broadway musical by any other producer, but we’re going to a Disney show and wanting a star for more. Have our inquiries become too extreme?

Granted, my expectations for Frozen may have been too high. Based on the 2013 blockbuster that marked a comeback for Disney animation (in a landscape long dominated by Pixar), it is the story of two princesses in the Nordic kingdom of Arendelle. The young Elsa (a correspondingly fearful Ayla Schwartz) is the enchanted heiress. Her younger sister Anna (the spunky Mattea Conforti) loves her older sister and her magical powers. Elsa’s parents, however, let her wear long gloves to suppress her supernatural urges.

Once she comes of age, Elsa (Caissie Levy, who portrays a convincingly low-key adult version of the sad little girl we met) nervously prepares for her coronation. Anna (the delightfully quirky Patti Murin) is looking forward to finally opening the palace to other people. She immediately falls in love with Prince Hans (John Riddle), a lovely visitor from the Southern Isles. But when Elsa refuses her request to marry, this triggers a confrontation that causes Elsa to unleash her magic and run away from Arendelle and plunge the kingdom into eternal winter.

Patti Murin plays Anna and John Riddle plays Hans in Frozen on Broadway.
(© Deen var Meer)

This is bad news for ice cream merchant Kristoff (a stage jelani Alladin who raises his voice in forced excitement). He helps Anna find her sister with the help of his loyal reindeer Sven (hidden under Michael Curry’s gorgeous full-body doll, Andrew Pirozzi gives the most impressive performance of the night; his eerie physicality will likely remind many viewers of a great family dog). On the way they meet a walking, talking snowman named Olaf (Greg Hildreth with a Permasmile wearing a modified version of the Timon doll from the Lion King).

Director Michael Grandage borrows the tried and tested Disney canon without moving the goalposts. Special effects designer Jeremy Chernick creates Elsa’s magic in close collaboration with video designer Finn Ross, who projects icicles throughout the theater. At some point they even seem to freeze the proscenium, which was reinterpreted by the set designer Christopher Oram as a mammoth wooden arch decorated in runes. Oram’s massive set includes some beautifully painted details for the audience to see, depending on Natasha Katz’s subdued but focused lighting. Oram also made the costumes that reference the film without resorting to facsimile. A quick change in particular receives the most sustained applause of the entire show.

Jennifer Lee, who wrote the script, also wrote the book, which skilfully adapted the story for the stage along with Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez’s expanded score. The couple have added several new songs, including “Dangerous to Dream,” which lets us in on Elsa’s inner monologue during the coronation. The funny Kevin Del Aguila, who plays shopkeeper Oaken, brings us back from the break with “Hygge”, an exuberant production number about the Scandinavian concept of the cozy time (a current lifestyle trend). Arrangers Stephen Oremus and David Chase wrote a fun dance break in “Fixer Upper”, a second act number for the faun-like “Hidden Folk” who replace the film’s trolls. Everyone in the cast is committed to Rob Ashford’s joyous choreography.

Jelani Alladin (center) leads the cast of Frozen on “Fixer Upper”.
(© Deen var Meer)

Of course, none of these songs has the effect of the surefire show stopper “Let It Go”, which of course serves as the first act finale. Levy delivers a heartfelt rendition without reinventing the wheel, wrapping the song with a superficial note of glory. It really doesn’t matter how well she sings the final chorus because you can’t hear her over the sound of the audience going mad over the most magical quick change on Broadway that hits the moment Elsa finally hugs her inner Ice queen.

Frozen is nothing groundbreaking. It is a beautiful adaptation of a beloved film. Kids will love seeing their favorite characters on stage, and if they can sit still during the 2 hour and 20 minute run, they will be rewarded with the kind of atmospheric indoor environment that has become too common to spoil on Broadway to apply. Snow from the stage, marks of fame and an unforgettable quick change. What more could you want from a Broadway show? Maybe it is really dangerous to dream of more.

Caissie Levy (center) directs the cast of Disney’s Frozen on Broadway.
(© Deen var Meer)



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