I've seen nearly every Disney Theatrical professional production going all the way back to Beauty and the Beast, so to say I was excited to see Frozen's stage adaptation is an understatement. During the show's seven-week pre-Broadway trial in Denver, the show was in a constant state of flux in order to become the smash hit it's destined to be. This review is unique to the performance from Saturday, September 23rd, 2017.
One of the first impressions the show makes comes from the set design by Christopher Oram. The proscenium arch appears to be carved out of wood with patterns that could be found on a Norwegian Stave church. The curtain features the Northern Lights projected in constant motion with wildlife ambiance sounds as the audience takes their seats. It instantly invites you to Arendelle before the show even starts.
Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who wrote the memorable songs from the film, have expanded their score and the musical numbers listed in the program feature twenty-three songs, not counting some short reprises here and there that pop-up organically. One of the new songs appears almost instantly with "Anna and Elsa" replacing "Frozen Heart" as the first song after "Vuelie" (elements of "Frozen Heart" appear towards the end of the show, but never the song in full). The first three songs almost blend together without a pause, all leading to Anna getting hurt and Elsa having to go into hiding to protect her sister from her powers. This musical prologue is one of several ways in which the stage version of Frozen reminds me of Wicked.
Young Anna and Elsa stay on stage all the way through the end of "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?," meaning the adult actresses (Cassie Levy as Elsa and Patti Murin as Anna) don't appear until "For the First Time in Forever." The sets for the palace of Arendelle are impressive, with sliding windows and doors being rearranged to create different rooms. There are also changeable legs masking the wings, some designed to look like part of the castle, others that allow projections to create winter landscapes or parts of Elsa's ice palace.
One criticism I had of the show is that the staging of several big numbers from the film feel underperformed. The most subdued choreography was "Love is an Open Door," where Anna and Hans stand facing each other, their feet locked in place for almost an entire verse. The song is simply too energetic to be staged with a lack of gusto. "In Summer" has a lot of pop-up elements built into the stage for Greg Hildreth and his Olaf puppet to interact with, but it's essentially just him the entire time while Anna and Kristoff stand to the side. The song is too big, too fun, and has a show stopping ending, so why isn't the ensemble involved? The ensemble in the show has a lot of inactive off-stage time and that should be fixed.
Of the new songs, the standout is "True Love" sung by Anna towards the end of the show. It's the show's "Home," "He Lives in You," "Proud of Your Boy," etc... Other new songs that I really enjoyed were "Hans of the Southern Isles," which serves as Hans' introduction and also gets two reprises. A duet between Anna and Kristoff called "What Do You Know about Love?" is another winning addition the the score. Elsa also gets a song towards the end of the show called "Monster" that feels a little unnecessary, re-expressing feelings already well established. It feels designed to simply extend the length of the show and to give Cassie another song to sing (her voice is marvelous).
"Let It Go" is obviously a key moment in the show and getting it right was critical. It has been moved to the end of Act 1, making it feel like it arrives a little late. Kristoff has already mentioned that the source of the storm is coming from the North Mountain and Anna has spent a good deal of time trying to get there, meaning Elsa is just sitting up there twiddling her thumbs before building her ice castle. The only underwhelming set design in the entire show is this moment. A beautiful beaded curtain comes down to reveal snowflake patterns, however, nothing rises from the stage at any point. The song already had parallels to "Defying Gravity" and in an effort to not full-on copy Wicked, the creative team leaves Elsa standing at the front of the stage belting the song. When it moves to Broadway, I hope they find a way to lift her up into the air because the song needs that. Personally, I don't feel "Let It Go" needs to be the end of Act 1. If they spruce up "In Summer" and make it the showstopper it should be, you could end Act 1 on a fun note and put "Let It Go" back where it makes sense.
A few other criticisms: Sven is a realistic puppet that masks the performer, losing the fun of the character and making him feel completely unnecessary. The trolls have been replaced by "Hidden Folk," who wear dreadlocks and bare chests, adding sex appeal to a show that frankly shouldn't have it. And the jokes from the film are all copied line for line to the stage where the majority of them don't work.
But overall, the stage adaptation of Frozen is a dazzling experience and features amazing set design, costumes, and performances. The creative team should take a hard look at the dialgue and staging before it debuts on Broadway early next year, but it's already a pretty solid show. These changes could be the difference of the stage version of Frozen being a Lion King (still running on Broadway after 20 years) or a Mary Poppins (ran for 7 years). I think it's guaranteed to be successful, at least initially, but making it perfect will ensure a long and successful run.