Disney Lets It Go With Frozen on Broadway
Disney has set a high bar for spectacle on Broadway. Whether we're seeing an elephant march down the aisle in The Lion King, a chimney sweep dance 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 am disappointed to report that mine remained firmly in place for Disney's latest: Frozen at the St. James Theatre. Frozen is a perfectly lovely Broadway musical by the standards of every other producer, but we go into a Disney show wishing upon a star for more. Have our requests grown too extreme?
Admittedly, my expectations for Frozen might 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 tale of two princesses set in the Nordic kingdom of Arendelle. Young Elsa (an appropriately angst-ridden Ayla Schwartz) is the enchanted heir apparent. Her younger sister, Anna (the spunky Mattea Conforti), adores her older sister and her magical powers. Elsa's parents, on the other hand, make her wear long gloves in an effort to suppress her supernatural urges.
Once she comes of age, Elsa (Caissie Levy, portraying a convincingly reserved adult version of the sad little girl we met) nervously prepares for her coronation. Anna (the delightfully quirky Patti Murin) is excited to finally open the palace to other people. She instantly falls for Prince Hans (John Riddle), a handsome visitor from the southern isles. But when Elsa denies their request to marry, it sparks a confrontation that causes Elsa to unleash her magic and run away from Arendelle, plunging the kingdom into perpetual winter.
That's bad news for ice merchant Kristoff (a stagey Jelani Alladin, pitching his voice up in forced excitement). He helps Anna find her sister with the aid of his trusty reindeer, Sven (hidden beneath Michael Curry's magnificent full-body puppet, Andrew Pirozzi gives the most impressive performance of the night; his uncanny physicality is likely to remind a lot of viewers of a large family dog). Along the way, they meet a walking, talking snowman named Olaf (Greg Hildreth with a permasmile, wielding a modified version of the Timon puppet from The Lion King).
Director Michael Grandage borrows from the tried-and-true of the Disney canon without moving the goalposts. Special effects designer Jeremy Chernick sufficiently creates Elsa's magic, working closely with video designer Finn Ross, who projects icicles all through the theater. At one point, they even seem to freeze the proscenium, which has been reimagined by set designer Christopher Oram as a mammoth wooden arch decorated in Runes. Oram's massive set features some beautifully painted details, which you can see from the audience depending on Natasha Katz's dim yet focused lighting. Oram also did the costumes, which reference the movie without resorting to facsimile. One quick change, in particular, receives the most sustained applause of the whole show.
Jennifer Lee, who wrote the screenplay, also penned the book, which smartly adapts the story for the stage along with Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez's augmented score. The pair has added several new songs, including "Dangerous to Dream," which makes us privy to Elsa's inner monologue during the coronation. Playing shopkeeper Oaken, the hilarious Kevin Del Aguila brings us back from intermission with "Hygge," a rollicking production number about the Scandinavian concept of cozy-time (a recent lifestyle trend). Arrangers Stephen Oremus and David Chase have written a fun dance break into "Fixer Upper," a second act number for the faun-like "hidden folk," who replace the trolls of the film. Everyone in the cast commits to Rob Ashford's joyful choreography.
Of course, none of these songs have quite the impact of the surefire showstopper "Let It Go," which naturally serves as the first act finale. Levy delivers a heartfelt rendition without reinventing the wheel, wrapping the song with a perfunctory glory note. It really doesn’t matter how well she sings the last chorus, however, because you can’t hear her over the sound of the audience losing its mind about the most magical quick change on Broadway, which arrives at the moment Elsa finally embraces her inner ice queen.
There's nothing groundbreaking about Frozen. It’s a fine adaptation of a beloved film. Kids will adore seeing their favorite characters onstage, and if they can sit still through the 2 hour, 20 minute running time, they will be rewarded with the kind of indoor atmospheric condition that has become too common on Broadway to count as a spoiler. Stage snow, glory notes, and an unforgettable quick change. What more could you want from a Broadway show? Perhaps it really is dangerous to dream for more.