By ROY BERKO
As I exited the opening night of Frozen, part of the Broadway Series now on stage at the Key Bank State Theatre, I was surrounded by hundreds of little girls in their “princess” dresses and tiaras, happily dragging their parents, grandparents and reluctant brothers toward the counters selling the show’s memorabilia. Listening to their conversations, they were less interested in the story, the score and the lyrics then in “How did they make it snow on-stage?” “How did they make all those icicles?, and “How did Elsa’s dress change so fast?”
There is an old theatre adage that states, “When you see a musical, you should come out humming the music, not commenting on the sets and costumes.” Disney, the producers of Frozen, obviously hadn’t heard that concept.
Well, maybe they did. In transferring the show from film (the 2013 flick of the same name which, to date, is the top grossing animated film of all time), to the stage version (2018), as “30% of the show was rewritten between the tryout and the Broadway opening. As the writers indicated, “with the musical taking a deeper dive into the characters psyches and aimed at a more adult audience.”
So, grandparents and parents, be aware that this musical, whose underlying message of being true to yourself and fully embracing who we are, may not enchant your “princesses.”
Frozen, the musical with music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and book by Jennifer Lee, premiered on Broadway in March 2018 to very mixed reviews. Typical of the professional evaluations is, Frozen doesn’t entirely go wrong, but it does evidence signs of the struggle to establish a consistent, unifying tone and to settle on a center in a story inherently bifurcated by having two heroines kept apart for most of the action. It ends up being merely adequate, a bland facsimile, when it should have been something memorable in its own right.” Others stated, “fun but not transporting, and “rousing, often dull, alternately dopey.”
Is the stage version the same as the film? In transferring it, the writers augmented their score for the original film, which featured just eight songs to 20 songs in the stage version. It is also probably why, both the two young boys in front of me and the trio of female tweens sitting behind, all were over-heard saying, “This isn’t like the film.”
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Broadway production closed on March 11, 2020, after 825 regular performances. When pandemic restrictions were eliminated, it was decided that the show would not open again on Broadway, but tour instead.
Locals were not thrilled by the Broadway no-up, as Baldwin Wallace University Musical Theatre grad Ciara Renée had assumed the lead role of Elsa, less than a month before the COVID shutdown.
So, what’s it all about?
A Greek Chorus introduces serious Princess Elsa of Arendelle and her high-spirited younger sister, Princess Anna. While the family knows about Elsa’s magical powers, it is kept a secret from the people of Arendelle. One night, Elsa and Anna build a magical snowman and name it Olaf. In their excitement, Elsa accidentally injures Anna in an icy magic rage. Their parents call for the aid of a colony of hidden folk. For their own protection, The King isolates the princesses within the castle.”
Years pass. The king dies. The day before Elsa’s coronation as Queen of Arendelle, Anna asks if there is anything she can do for her sister. Elsa, her room coated in ice, refuses to open her door out of fear of hurting Anna again.
The day of the coronation Anna meets and falls in love with Hans. He asks to marry her. (As we find out later he has a sinister reason for the proposal.) The couple asks for Elsa’s blessing. She objects because the two have only known each other for a day.
After intense questioning from Anna about shutting her out of her life, Elsa accidentally unleashes her icy powers before the court.
Elsa flees to the North Mountain without realizing that her magic has engulfed Arendelle in an eternal winter.
Thus, we enter into a world of ice, a compassionate reindeer, Olaf becoming a living snowman, Anna falling in love again, a revelation about Hans, and, of course, a happy ending.
During the goings on, we hear a rather uninspiring score consisting of such songs as “Hans of the Southern Isles,” “Dangerous to Dream,” “Reindeers are Better than People,” “Hygee” and “Colder by the Minute.” On the other hand, “Love Is an Open Door” is cute and catchy.
The visual effects are astounding. Anna’s costumes are breathtaking. The lighting effects, which help create Elsa’s magic, are confounding. The full-body costume to represent the reindeer, Sven, (Colin Baja inside holding stilts in his hands and walking on tiptoe) is impressive, as is the puppet of Olaf (F. Michael Haynie), the snowman. They are much in the realm of the compelling horses in Warhorse.
The entire cast has impressive voices. Lauren Nicole Chapman delights as Princess Anna. She displays a wonderful sense of comic timing. Beautiful Caroline Bowman, is perfect as Elsa, the Ice Princess/Queen. Her “Let It Go” is the show’s musical highlight. Handsome Ryan McCartan is both charming and evil as Hans. Zach Trimmer is macho-right as Kristoff, Anna’s nice-guy second love.
Capsule judgment: Disney has created some of Broadway’s most memorable musicals including The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, Mary Poppins and Newsies: The Musical. Frozen, unfortunately, does not deserve to join that exalted list. It’s not terrible, but kids will probably not be enchanted, adults should be adequately interested, and all will be awed by the special effects and lighting.
Frozen runs through September 11 at the Key Bank State Theatre. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to www.playhousesquare.org
Roy Berko is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the Cleveland Critics Circle.