Frozen is heading to Broadway, but first, it’s getting a tryout in Denver, Colorado. Like other Disney movies-turned-stage musicals, the show, based on the hit 2013 animated film, comes with a lot of baggage; multiple critics report that the audience actually began to sing along to “Let It Go” during previews, apparently startling Caissie Levy, who plays Elsa.
For the most part, professional reactions to the show were something of a wintry mix, with praise for the performances and visuals but criticisms about the show’s tone and changes to the story. Director Michael Grandage has until spring 2018, when the show arrives in New York, to iron out the kinks.
Here are the highlights from the first flurry of reviews:
Critics praised the show’s two leads, especially Patti Murin as Anna.
The two leads—Levy as wound-tight Elsa and Patti Murin as her warm-centered sister Anna—are capable manifestations of contrasting polarities and fine performers both.
Murin makes Anna her own with classic nuanced stage singing and lots of spark—a modern-day Annie Oakley with flashes of Olivia Pope.
The excellent Levy finds her perfect complement in Murin (Lysistrata Jones), who portrays the younger, bubblier sister Anna. A nimble comedian with a warm, crystalline voice, Murin charms as her character comes of age.
The new songs are mostly unremarkable, with one notable exception.
Several of the new [songs] flesh out subsidiary characters, including Hans, the foreign prince who romances Anna, and Kristoff, the backcountry lunk who helps her on her journey. These are typical second-drawer Disney numbers: momentarily catchy, neat and to the point.
There’s a funny comic turn from Kevin Del Aguila, singing a droll new Act 2 opener called “Hygge,” a smart spoof of how those smug Northern Europeans manage to be so much happier than us, and a surprise in a show that needs more of them.
Joanne Ostrow, Denver Post:
The rousing “Hygge,” aspiring to be the Northern Lights’ equivalent to “Hakuna Matata,” is great fun if instantly forgettable.
The sets, lighting, and visual effects are all very impressive, especially in the big “Let It Go” scene.
The setting for “Let it Go” is very much its own thing: it feels like a performance at the Video Music Awards, and a very effective one it is, too, what with digital ice and 3-D-bergs sprouting from Levy’s mitts as she sings her face off. Few are disappointed.
Mark Shenton, The Stage:
Christopher Oram's set and costume designs, augmented by Finn Ross's video, create more stunning transformations behind the beautiful wood-panelled proscenium the action is framed within. Natasha Katz's lighting provides its own brand of magic, summonsing the Northern Lights with shades of vivid blue, green, orange and purple.
The musical’s reported development budget of $25 million to $30 million has been well-spent on grand gestures like the “Let It Go” metamorphosis, and on more nuanced details like the pillowy clouds that float past when the gloomy palace’s doors are flung open to reveal beautiful skies. The scale of Arendelle’s wooden palace is imposing, as is Elsa’s mountain refuge.
Some reviewers thought the show was too serious …
To clearly separate the Broadway production from those truncated family attractions, the creative team aims, inevitably, for less froth and more artistic seriousness. But sometimes froth — and vibrant colors and brighter lighting—are all just fine, particularly when princesses, fun sidekicks and a fanciful Scandinavian kingdom are involved. A little less gravitas would seem in order as Disney continues to tweak the show in the run-up to New York.
For now the dominant element isn’t ice but murk. The authors seem to have taken Elsa’s warning—“Don’t let them in, don’t let them see”—too much to heart.
… others, too safe.
Disney should relax in the knowledge that the show won’t upset its fan base, which doesn’t listen to snooty critics anyway. But this gifted crew has a yet-unrealized responsibility to better ignite our imaginations and make us do a bit more work.
Most critics appreciated Sven the Reindeer, but they couldn’t agree on Olaf.
Greg Hildreth, working a dead-ringer puppet of the animated character [Olaf], gives sweetly hilarious voice to one of Disney’s best-ever sidekicks, and Andrew Pirozzi hoofs it in a beastly (in the best sense of the word) costume as the reindeer Sven.
Sven the Reindeer—one of the best things in the show—is a gorgeously expressive, human-powered puppet from Michael Curry, played by Andrew Pirozzi. Olaf, played by Greg Hildreth, is a familiar comic marionette much like Zazu in The Lion King, and thus weirdly out-of-place here.
On stage Olaf is rendered as a three-foot-high puppet attached to the body of actor Greg Hildreth, who is sort of dressed like a snowman and sings and pulls the strings — yeoman's work with a difficult assignment. Yet the result is mostly a distraction, requiring a huge suspension of disbelief, and real work on the part of the audience as we wonder which set of Olaf's eyes to look into […] Best to put an actor inside a costume or a true puppeteer in the rafters. Pick one.
The show invites comparisons to Wicked—and could maybe learn something from it.
Frozen admittedly borrows from other blockbuster musicals, the most obvious being Wicked and Disney’s The Lion King. (Leads Levy and Patti Murin have played Elphaba and Glinda, respectively, in Wicked.)
Mark Shenton, The Stage:
It’s like a cross between Wicked and Harry Potter.
But, like Wicked before it, Frozen is going to have to figure how to make the dark character less of a bore and the light character more compelling.