REVIEW: FROZEN at The Denver Center

by Emilee Hatfield

It would seem many residents in Denver have come to realize that they won’t be able to Let It Go through October 1st. Frozen the Broadway Bound Musical premiered Aug. 17th to a sold out audience full of those young at heart; whether they be young or old. While the movie Frozen has become nothing short of a phenomenon,  the musical leaves itself short of what it could be.

The director Michael Grandage has been known for his wonderful productions and vision. It feels as if this vision of Frozen though is not yet clear. While its potential arises from the very beginning, it only breaks through the clouds of the large snowstorm that is taking place on stage.

The first thing that Frozen needs to address isn’t the issue with the show itself. No, it is the audiences that they are drawing in. Most people understand that this is a Disney musical, and many children will want to see Elsa’s ice powers and hear her famous ballad happen before their very eyes. But does that make it acceptable for parents to allow their children to scream during the songs they are familiar with from the movie? In any situation in theatre it is important to know that toddlers do not have the attention span that adults or young adults have. Therefore they get a bit bored through a two and half hour musical no matter who is on stage. Frozen seemed to have a certain mind frame for it’s marketing but missed the mark completely. During the performance I attended this was one of my main concerns and something I feel needs to be addressed.

The show did place large pamphlets in the programs, saying that the use of phones, video or audio recordings were strictly prohibited. They even announced it prior to the beginning of the performance as most if not all theatre performance do. Sadly some parents get excited at the fact their children are seeing Elsa and Anna and want to capture their reaction. During the performance a mother in front of me pulled out her phone, while her child sung at the top of her lungs, taking pictures of both her and the stage. Now being the theatre fan I am, I find not only is it distracting from the performance but is very disrespectful to the actors and company that is currently performing.It also isn’t fair to the audience members who paid to see the show, to hear the performance, not a child. Parents must be aware of what they are attending and their child must be mature enough to silently enjoy the show. Still I must praise the actors themselves for having such professionalism when other can’t seem to grasp the respect and silence that comes with live theater.

With this being said, the show sadly does appeal to the younger audience rather than older leaving a little bit of emptiness to those who expected perhaps more.The book written by the films own Jennifer Lee, leaves something to be desired. Still some plot points and concepts did create interest and left me shocked at the fact that such a topic could be used. Some I wish not to spoil, but the unique concept of Elsa and Anna’s mother having the same necklace as the hillfolk, (the characters based off of the trolls) brings more character to her giving us a glimpse into a possible source of Elsa’s powers. I only wish these concepts could have been expanded upon more than resorting right back to what is comfortable.

Even Lee’s book though cannot seem to hide the awkward atmosphere that comes with the lack of set and props. Granted what the set designer Christopher Oram did present on stage was beautiful, and blended well with not only the story but his costume design as well. Being that the outfits of both Anna and Elsa have become nothing short of iconic, it was interesting to see how the costumes designs brought beauty to Arendelle and its citizens perfectly from the film while being different with adding a few more culturally accurate costuming. It just appeared that the stage felt a bit bare for the standards Disney usually carries with their shows. Such as during “Love Is An Open Door,” the set was very simple and both Anna and Hans did nothing except an awkward set of dance numbers with so many different styles your head would spin. While the choreography by Rob Ashford is well done it sometimes feels misplaced. This scene alone gets a lot of laughs but is it in the way the creative team wants it to be received?

It is made up for as the special effects, video and lighting come together reminding us of the extravagance and expectations of Disney musicals. With Lightning by Natasha Katz, video design by Finn Ross, and Jeremy Chernick as the special effects; it is nice to see that all three designers have kept that magic that Disney musicals should carry no matter where the performance should take place. Taking advantage of the setting the use of Norwegian culture is present taking a very simplistic beauty with the use of the northern lights, the wonder of Elsa’s powers and many other little surprises if you pay close attention.

Speaking of surprises, I may finally speak one of my favorite pieces of the puzzle; the music. Robert Lopez and his wife Kristin Anderson-Lopez have put time and effort into adding new songs from the film. Drawing from the book written by Lee they have managed to  write songs that I still have not  been able to get out of my head. One in particular being “Huygga”, a song written specifically for Oaken, and “Monster” sung by Elsa during act 2. Both songs brought a different perspective to characters that I already loved. To say they have done their job and more is coming a little short of what they have managed to give to their current audiences and those to come.

Now with all of these elements coming together, it can always benefit the actors allowing them to immerse themselves in their roles they are portraying. When having such a famous Broadway icon like Idina Menzel lending her voice to Elsa, it requires a large amount of magic and experience to fill that spot. Caissie Levy, fills it and more. While her performance can be a bit held back considering Elsa doesn’t have as much stage time when comparing it to the film Levy still held a unique presence as the snow queen. She took what she was given  and ran with it. Especially when it comes to the most anticipated and beloved song within the show. That alone is hard to carry on your shoulders when you think of it. Yet Levy does it with such grace, and talent that no matter if she was standing on an empty stage, or had the most lavish set her voice continuously commands your attention, while leaving even the youngest of audience members in awe throughout the intermission, perhaps even longer.

But Elsa would not be anywhere without  Anna who is played by Patti Murin. Their chemistry is nothing short of Elsa and Anna’s bond throughout the film. Both women clearly have a good understanding of what these sisters go through and the emotions they face.  Patti Murin is the perfect choice in the role of Anna. From her voice, to her acting, she completely embodies the character from start to finish. Portraying that sweet innocence of Anna, that care free nature that caused us to root for her from the very beginning.

The pros and cons of the show are a balancing act, leaving a sense of uncertainty when leaving the theater. Despite the distractions of the screaming children and mothers wanting pictures.  I found while presenting very interesting concepts and wonderful performances the musical itself can expand past what the movie did. It can be matured and focus not only on Elsa and Anna’s relationship but add depth to them and the world that surrounds them. Still there seems to be something lacking when it comes to the overall design and production.  

It is simply this, when we think of Disney musicals we think of the great designs and unique originality of The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid and Aladdin. These shows took the best parts of the Disney films while still creating an original mature show that could hold its own. The standards are a bit high when it comes to something as big as Disney and shouldn’t this musical based on a film with such high regard have expectations just as high if not higher? All I can say after leaving Frozen, I only wished that we were given more than what was expected.

 

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