The following review is based on the December 6th, opening-night performance of Disney’s “Frozen,” the Musical (the North American tour) at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre.
In 2013, “Frozen” became an instant Disney classic, earning $1.27 billion worldwide, and making obsessed fans out of children and adults alike who found themselves moved by not a conventional tale of romance, but rather a sisterly story of two princesses, Elsa and Anna, who overcome their estrangement by finding their purpose and empowerment through each other.
Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” the animated film has spawned a resident production at Disney California Adventure (“Frozen – Live at the Hyperion”), a Broadway musical (still playing at the St. James Theatre) a sequel (which has already grossed $1.4 billion and counting), and a North American tour, which saw its opening night at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre on December 6th after debuting in Schenectady, NY. One would also be remiss not to mention that only a few weeks prior, the iconic voices behind the films, Idina Menzel and Kristen Bell, were awarded their stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which can be found just a few steps from the Pantages’ entrance.
Amid the snuggle-time, frosty weather this holiday season, “Frozen” is the perfect musical choice to round out the year at the Pantages, which will be hosting the spectacle deep into the winter, through February 2nd, 2020. Director Michael Grandage brings his Shakespearean sensibilities to the stage, melding expressive storytelling with modern technological marvels to create a brisk escape, where, through glacial displays of ice and snow, audience members are simultaneously chilled and enchanted.
The book by Jennifer Lee is mostly familiar with the exception of the kingdom-aiding trolls who have been replaced by the cavemen-like hidden folk, led by Tyler Jimenez’s Pabbie and Brit West’s Bulda. We still see how the royal sisters of Arendelle, Elsa and Anna, have been kept apart since childhood from the moment the former inadvertently hurts the latter with her magic. Then, at age 21, when Elsa is coronated as the new queen, a dispute between the two accidentally provokes a vortex of Elsa’s cryokinetic powers, causing Arendelle to be cursed by a perpetual winter. After Elsa goes into a self-imposed exile on the North Mountain, Anna, who has by this time abruptly fallen in love with the seemingly sincere Prince Hans, leaves the castle behind to find her sister, whereupon Kristoff, an ice seller, his reindeer Sven, as well as the supernatural snowman from her youth, Olaf, accompany and assist her. The eventual outcome is less about a reconciliation and more about a journey of self-discovery where both sisters acquire profound life lessons.
In comparison to the first film, the music has been improved upon with several new songs by the husband-and-wife power team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. The added numbers with arguably the most emotional impact include “Dangerous to Dream,” “Monster,” and the just recently added, “I Can’t Lose You.” In the first one, Elsa is able to communicate her desire to be normal and reconnect with Anna, in spite of her “curse” which has strained their relationship. In the second, as sharp icicles envelop the stage, Elsa faces a crucible of harrowing self-doubt, not dissimilar from other fictional protagonists (e.g., Frankenstein’s Creature, the Phantom), who were misunderstood and made to feel horrible. The third song, which is a poignant duet between the siblings, effectively emphasizes their mutual desire to never diverge from each other’s lives again. The Lopez’s extra contributions provide more insights into the characters’ motivations, bridging the transition from the digital domain to the fully live and realized depictions.
Just like the thoughtful lyrics, Grandage’s direction lends itself to a self-awareness that translates meaningfully to the acting and the vocal performances. At its heart, the lesson conveyed in “Frozen” is that almost nothing is worth having a rift with a loved one, as most disagreements are usually based on misinterpretations. This all-important discernment was coincidentally lyricized way back in 1998 by Madonna when she sang, “You’re frozen / When your heart’s not open.”
That being said, the biggest draw for a Disney Theatrical property like this is the eye-catchingly glittery display of ambitious visuals provided by scenic and costume designer Christopher Oram, lighting designer Natasha Katz, video-designer Finn Ross, and special-effects guru Jeremy Chernick. There is a majesty to the palatially polar settings that wow over and over again, whether it’s Elsa’s beatifically blue costume, her crystalline sanctuary, the castle halls, the sprinkling snow, or the projections that beautifully blend in with the towering tundra of this fantastical narrative. The performers’ onstage movements are key in making this presentation simultaneously solemn and light-hearted, which is owed to Rob Ashford’s choreography.
Caroline Bowman portrays the pragmatically mature Elsa and Caroline Innerbichler is the playfully innocent Anna, and although they don’t spend a great deal of time on stage together (a quibble of many “Frozen” critics), the camaraderie between their characters still feels tight-knit. The roles, which were written for a mostly younger audience, are challenging to pull off because they’re a bit limited on paper. But, with a pensive look here and a conflicted look there, Bowman’s Elsa becomes highly relatable as a woman who leads, is sensible, and yet, not unlike most, is beset by inner demons she must wrangle with. And if there is one song that brings people to the theatre, it’s “Let It Go,” which exceeds expectations as it closes Act I with a flurry of goosebumps-inducing emotions, sung emphatically by Bowman’s Elsa, who experiences a transformation — appearance-wise and internally — in one superbly satisfying fell swoop.
Innerbichler’s Anna has her own interesting peculiarities, such as being high-energy, exuberant, affable, and unapologetically big-hearted, sometimes to her detriment. Additionally, Innerbichler shines during “For the First Time in Forever,” “What Do You Know About Love?” and “Love Is an Open Door,” which is shared with the too-good-to-be-true Hans, who is played persuasively by Austin Colby (the real-life husband to Bowman). The autobiographical “Hans of the Southern Isles” is a punchy little number that Colby emotes with a charming, self-assured chutzpah in the two occasions that it’s sung.
Mason Reeves is the sympathetic Kristoff, the easygoing and inquisitive guy with a humble job whom Anna befriends. Reeves does a great job of giving Kristoff real substance and making him root-worthy (in winning over Anna). Not to mention, his trusty deer, Sven, who is lovable to look at, makes Kristoff an even more attractive option than Hans. It’s moreover worth noting that Sven is made up of a full-body costume performed painstakingly on stilts by Collin Baja (the role is shared with Evan Strand) who is the unsung hero of the production. F. Michael Haynie is also worthy of acclaim for puppeteering (puppet designer is Michael Curry) and voicing the cuddly Olaf, who earns unanimous smiles, giggles, and applause for being so especially fun-loving and ironic during “In Summer.” And while their time on stage is short, Jeremy Morse exhibits off-the-charts charisma as the tango-loving Duke Weselton and Michael Milkanin is riotously funny as the Dutch-accented North Mountain shop-owner Oaken who, along with his half-naked friends, associates all that is good and positive with “Hygge,” a word with a very versatile meaning.
Lastly, in a story when the “adults” are mostly remembered, Alyssa Kim and Stella R. Cobb are standouts for bucking that notion as Young Elsa and Anna, respectively (the roles are shared with Jaiden Klein and Arwen Monzon-Sanders). The two have much responsibility in ensuring the musical gets off to an auspicious start, as they share three numbers together (“Let the Sun Shine On,” “A Little Bit of You,” and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”). Thanks to these girls’ performances, attendees get the first glimpse into who Elsa and Anna are and why their separate trajectories transpire before ultimately intersecting.
With “Frozen” mania running wild, turning everything in its path into a glistening, platinum wonderland, the North American tour of the musical does more of the same, and takes the mythos beyond the two-dimensional screen and onto a stage that is vivid, vivacious, and marked by sweeping vistas of ice-covered artistry. Arctic landscapes and the northern lights have never been so breathtaking, and combined as they are with performances that insightfully delve into the human condition and the nuances of family – frostbitten foibles and all – “Frozen,” the Musical, qualifies as the ultimate holiday outing.
For more information about “Frozen,” the Musical, at the Pantages, please visit:
And for further details about the North American tour, go to: