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Stage Door: Disney's Frozen

by Dancin' Dan

Caissie Levy stars as Elsa

You can feel the audience's anticipation. Not for the show to begin, not for the star to come on stage, but for the act one finale, from the moment you step inside the St. James Theater to see Frozen. That's not necessarily a surprise, "Let It Go" being the kind of world-conquering hit song that feels like it's in short supply these days. But it is a strange strange thing to feel when you're seeing a new musical...

But then, Frozen isn't exactly new, is it? Disney's 2013 Best Animated Feature Oscar winner has been around for five years, if you can believe it. It certainly makes sense that Disney would want to turn the most successful animated feature ever into a stage musical, for any number of reasons, only a scant few of them artistic. But Frozen has always been something of a strange beast, and it remains exactly that on stage.

Frozen the movie is a lopsided affair as a musical, with more than half of its eight songs coming before the halfway point. The stage musical mimics that structure, albeit with plethora of added songs. Written by the movie's married Oscar-winning team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and youngest-ever-EGOT Robert Lopez, the new songs are all great ideas in theory. They grant depth to the characters that wasn't always present in the source material, and they deepen the relationship between sisters Anna and Elsa. Unfortunately, they don't have any of the melodic stickiness of the movie's songs, even if the cast is up to the task of making these songs and characters their own.

Patti Murin and John Riddle as Anna and Hans

Sadly, at the performance I attended, Patti Murin (who plays Anna) was out, so I can't speak to her, although her standby Aisha Jackson gave a spirited and lovely performance. John Riddle makes a perfectly too-charming Prince Hans, and Jelani Alladin a feisty Kristoff. But the show belongs to Caissie Levy as Elsa, and not only because of that first act closer. Levy fully burrows into Elsa's skin, showing the deep and abiding love of her sister and the people of Arendelle even from within the crushing fear she has imposed on herself due to her dangerous magic powers. Her voice soars to truly great heights, sounding even better on "Let It Go" than movie Elsa Idina Menzel.

About that number.

"Let It Go" is far and away the best thing in this show, not just musically but in terms of staging. It is the moment when everything - Natasha Katz's lighting, Christopher Oram's set and costumes, Finn Ross's video design, Jeremy Chernick's special effects, and Michael Grandage's direction - comes together in a perfect storm of creative ambition. They know that this is the moment that will define the show, and it's clear that it has been put together with great care. (Elsa's mid-number costume change in particular is a big WOW moment).

But nothing else comes remotely close.

Everything else in this production is either a middling attempt to fill out the movie's brief running time, or a slavish recreation of the movie's look and feel, making the sets and costumes too synthetic to fully come alive. Poor Greg Hildreth is stuck doing a Josh Gad impression as Olaf the snowman. And Rob Ashford's choreography feels utterly standard (except for the Act Two opener, "Hygge", which is honestly the strangest thing I have ever seen in a so-called family show). The one other truly great moment comes near the end of the show, when a character becomes frozen in a pretty neat combination of choreography, costuming, and lighting projection.

If only there were more moments like that. But this is Disney we're talking about. Strange to remember that their biggest theatrical hit by far is the completely one-of-a-kind production of The Lion King, directed by Julie Taymor. It's a pity the conglomerate hasn't worked with an artist as visionary as Taymor since, nor given a director and their designers such free reign to come up with a look for a production that is totally their own as opposed to a mere copy of what worked in a movie.

But if literally all you're coming for is "Let It Go", you'll certainly come away happy.


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Reader Comments (6)

Note: I haven't seen the show, so I'm going off the OBCR.

The new songs are kinda disappointing, aside from Monster (which you can tell is trying to be act 2's LIG). Easily the second best song in the show. Even the movie songs are disappointing! I think Let It Go's the best song in the show, but the end where she hits that big note was not nessacery.

May 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterChris

I never got Frozen's massive appeal. Tangled is a much superior movie.

May 16, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda

I agree with Amanda- " Tangled" is better

May 16, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterjaragon

I liked this even less than you. I don't even think the actors were able to make it their own.

May 17, 2018 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I started a bit of a fight at work by asking people "Tangled or Frozen."

T'was fun,

May 17, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

I wish I could see this.

May 20, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterChinoiserie

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