A Fabulous Fox theater packed with tiny princesses in sparkly gowns and the families (and a some dressed-up grown-ups too) enthusiastically greeted “Frozen,” the Broadway musical version of Disney’s hit movie, on the opening night on Nov. 2. The Tony-nominated musical is the latest Disney movie to make the move to the stage, and the latest in the Fox’s strong Broadway series this season.
The best kind of family entertainment is the kind that offer something for the grown-ups as well as the youngsters, and the stage adaptation of “Frozen” delivers surprisingly well on this. The musical features big sparkly sets, pumped up with projections and creative lighting, gorgeous colorful costumes, and some nicely-done stage magic and puppeteering for reindeer Sven and main-comic character snowman Olaf, for an total, immersive entertainment experience.
The show starts out with the the young princesses, Elsa (Sydney Elise Russell on opening night, alternating with Mackenzie Mercer) and Anna (Aria Kane on opening night, alternating with Saheli Khan), with their parents King Agnarr (Kyle Lamar Mitchell) and Queen Iduna (Belinda Allyn). While the sisters are building a snowman using Elsa’s magical powers (something she is not supposed to use), things go wrong. The worried parents call in the queen’s magical, elf-like “Hidden Folk” relatives, Pabbie (Tyler Jimenez) and Bulda (Brit West) – both charming – to set things right. The crisis is averted but shaken older sister Elsa starts avoiding her bubbly younger sister Anna, and then Anna’s isolation worsens after their parents are lost at sea.
After the opening scene, we flash forward to the now-grown sisters, as Elsa (Caroline Bowman) prepares for her coronation and opens up the palace to the public for a grand ball, much to the delight of the lonely Anna (Lauren Nicole Chapman). In this scene, the musical introduces the other major characters, such as visiting handsome Prince Hans (Will Savarese) who woos Anna, ice-selling commoner Kristoff (Dominic Dorset) and his beloved reindeer Sven (Collin Baja on opening night, alternating with Dan Plehal), and the comically-oily nobleman Weselton (Evan Duff), who blusters as he corrects those who pronounce his name “weasel-ton.” Down the road in the second act, we also meet shop-owner Oaken and, of course, crowd-favorite snowman Olaf (Jeremy Davis).
The touring production is under the direction of Thomas Schumacher and includes live music by the tour’s orchestra. This stage production features some extra songs from the same award-winning husband-and-wife songwriting team, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, as the movie, although none of the new songs were as memorable as the movie’s original hits.
A highlight of the first act was one of the movie’s favorite songs, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” which the two sisters sing together and becomes a running theme about their sisterly bond. The story follows the movie fairly well, with Elsa fleeing to the north after accidentally revealing her magical powers, leaving the kingdom in crisis and sending sister Anna in pursuit of the new queen, with the help of Kristoff and reindeer Sven. The trip north gives the audience some dazzling stage effects and more of the bits of stage magic we saw in the first scene.
The first act ends with a showstopper extravaganza, with Caroline Bowman’s Elsa belting out that ear-worm hit ”Let It Go,” to the thrilled audience. Bowman really delivers in this scene, both dramatically and vocally, and she knocks socks off with her voice while managing some stage magic effects along with delivering a dramatic punch. The show was not a sing-along but some of the entranced little fans couldn’t help doing just that, Fortunately, the little fans were not loud enough to interfere with Caroline Bowman’s wonderful rendition, so it just gave the live show an extra warmth without impacting the show.
One of this enjoyable live production’s highlights are its clever use of stage magic plus some extra lighting effects, which boost the magical feel, along with the sparkly sets and layered flats enhanced with video projections on screens. The stage production’s visual effects were more snowflake and glittery than the movie’s geometric effects. but that dazzle works much better in this live production.
One of the more surprising delights of the show are the puppet characters Olaf and Sven. The two characters are among the most challenging to transform for a live show but they are completely charming. Sven is mute and played extremely well by one man in the reindeer costume but the result is enormously entertaining and funny. Particularly charming is the double act with comic partner Dominic Dorset’s Kristoff as he sings his featured number “Reindeer Are Better Than People,” which Dorset carries off with enormous humorous charm. One expects Olaf to be the most appealing comic character, as he is in the movie, and indeed he is, but Sven, and Kristoff, steal a little thunder.
As Olaf, Jeremy Davis has the advantage of being able to talk and sing but it is also a tough job, doing double-duty both operating the puppet snowman Olaf and doing the acting and singing, dressed in a white winter costume. It requires him to do a little of the redirection magic of a ventriloquist, while also being “on” as a performer, because we can see him. Davis handles it well, and is completely fun as Olaf, and especially good in Olaf’s signature comic production number “In Summer” late in the first act.
After a short intermission, the second act opens strong with a great comic production number, which was a showstopper in its own way. Backed by a host of Nordic types, wilderness shop-owner Oaken (Michael Milkanin) sings about “Hygge,” the Scandinavian concept of cozy and comfy crossed with a friends-and-family vibes, and a bunch of other Northern comforts. The scene is lively, funny and crazy, with a high-kicking, tongue-in-cheek humor. Another highlight of this second act involves the magical Pabbie (Tyler Jimenez) and Bulda (Brit West) and their colorful “Hidden Folk” tribe, which sets up things for the show’s dramatic climax and satisfying denouement.
The Broadway musical “Frozen” gives young audiences all the magic and delights of the Disney movie with its warm sisterly love message, while keeping parents entertained and amused. Anyone who loved the movie should also be pleased with this wonderful stage production.
“Frozen” is on stage at the Fabulous Fox through Nov. 13.
© Cate Marquis
RATING: 4 out of 5 stars