Review by Lauren Van Hemert; Photo by Deen van Meer
This year, Disney’s highly anticipated Frozen stormed Broadway, opening at the St. James Theatre after a fall preview at Denver’s Buell Theatre.
Inspired by the fairytale The Snow Queen, the story is essentially the same as the movie. It’s a tale of sisterly love overcoming all, only with many more songs than the film. In fact, EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez wrote an additional 12 songs for this production, some of which work, like Dangerous to Dream and the ballad Monster, and some of which are more of an earworm than awe-inspiring (not hygge, I know). And of course, there are the fan favorites from the movie sprinkled heavy throughout Act I, including For the First Time in Forever, In Summer, and Let It Go, which are the catalysts for the show’s big production numbers. The only recognizable song from the movie in Act II is Fixer Upper. And that in turn may be part of the problem with Frozen, the fact that it feels more like a glorified theme park stage show, rather than a full-fledged, well-developed Broadway musical.
On a high note, however, are the performances by Cassie Levy (Elsa), Patti Murin (Anna) and Jelani Alladin (Kristoff), not to mention the outstanding puppetry of Andrew Pirozzi (Sven). Levy is stunning as Elsa and proves to be a singing powerhouse, belting out Let It Go with a vigor and intensity that will surpass fans’ expectations. Murin’s portrayal of Anna is quirky, bubbly, and animated. In fact, she so embodies the essence of Anna that it almost feels as if the animated character has leaped off the celluloid drawing and onto the Broadway stage in human form.
But the strong performances aren’t enough to elevate Frozen to what theatergoers know Disney is capable of. Just thinking about the grandeur of Lion King and the high-octane choreography of Newsies, for example, makes this show feel more like a commercial banking on the movie’s box office success and popularity rather than its own entity, which it so has the potential to be. Even the mini morsels of Disney magic that are thrown into the show during the big production numbers fall short of the caliber of stage effects happening elsewhere on Broadway right now (think Harry Potter and the Cursed Child). Still, judging by the enthusiasm of the costumed kids in the audience, including my own, as well as the crowds at the stage door, I have no doubt that Frozen will be a box office success. And national audiences can judge for themselves when Frozen launches its national tour next year.
Frozen is a Disney Theatrical Group production now playing at St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th St, New York City. Performance times vary; check the website at Frozen the Musical. Find more information about current plays in the Chicago area on our Current Shows page and at theatreinchicago.com.