Full disclosure: “Frozen” is not my favorite Disney princess movie. Loved the message and the song, but the story seemed pretty convoluted even by Disney standards. As a musical, the plotting remains weak, but there is a special magic that only live theatre can produce, and it’s working a charming spell on the Broadway stage.
There is, of course, Elsa’s magic, but I’m speaking of the thrill that comes from experiencing familiar material beautifully honed up close and personal.
And this one was quite a challenge. How to recreate the G-rated spirit of the animated film while delving into the characters’ personal conflicts, which are pretty psychologically deep.
The story concerns two royal sisters, Elsa and Anna, forced to separate as children after Elsa is discovered to have magical powers that can freeze hearts. Their parents die and after a disastrous coronation, Elsa goes into self-imposed exile to avoid further harm. Anna spends the bulk of the story searching for her beloved sister.
Songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez were tasked with composing about a dozen new songs. Some are catchy and rousing, and there is a big second act ballad called “Monster,” which encapsulates Elsa’s dilemma. But nothing comes close to that mega show-stopper “Let It Go.” And happily, Caissie Levy does not disappoint.
The climactic scene is dazzlingly staged by director Michael Grandage. Alone in her exquisite ice palace, Elsa finally accepts her powers, belting to the rafters, and the Disney design team pulls out all the stops with some awesome effects.
And modeled after “Lion King”-inspired puppetry, the show’s creators aced another challenge crafting the reindeer Sven and the snowman Olaf.
The technical stagecraft, impressive as it is, doesn’t overpower the human drama. Anna’s two suitors, Hans and Kristophe, are nicely fleshed out by John Riddle and Jelani Alladin. And the two girls portraying young Elsa and Anna are adorable.
But it really does all come down to the two lead performances. Levy projecting Elsa’s regal cool and burning conscience and Patti Murin so masterfully portraying Anna’s sweetly awkward innocence are perfect role models in this age of female empowerment.
In style, “Frozen” on stage is more like “Beauty And The Beast” than the innovative masterwork “Lion King.” Kids will love it. But the big question: Can “Frozen” melt the hearts of sophisticated theatergoers? Thanks to those talented sisters, it did mine.