Patti Murin as Anna & Caissie Levy as Elsa in Frozen

Review of Disney's Frozen on Broadway

Tulis McCall
Tulis McCall

Frozen is a perfect confection. It is a fairy tale come to live in the present, physical world, where it has little business being, but what the heck. Who couldn't use a little uplift - especially in these times of callousness and ignorance and all the stuff that makes you want to crawl under the covers until the plague passes. Besides, who could not use a boatload of special effects??? Frozen is a whole lot of Disney, a little Lloyd-Webber, a little John Williams, a ton of spectacle, and a boat load of that magic elixir, l-o-v-e.

What is remarkable is that this is a story of two sisters, both of whom are heroes. Heroines? (unlike the Hans Christian Anderson story The Snow Queen on which this is based and had one whing-ding of a mean sister). Like the classic examples in "Hero With A Thousand Faces" by Joseph Campbell, these two Royals get the call to a challenge and each faces it in her own way. In a land too far away to visit, Arendelle, the Princess Elsa (Caissie Levy) has been born with a gift that is challenging. She can freeze you, literally, with a swoop of her tiny hand. While this gift is cool (you should pardon the pun), it is not so good when it is out of control. Problem is, Elsa does not know how to control it. When she whacks her little sister too hard during fun in the magic snow, Elsa is condemned to a permanent time out, while her sister Anna (Patti Murin) is left to wonder where her best friend went and why. Add to this the death of their parents and you have two little heroes, each alone, waiting for their lives to begin.

Begin they do when three years later Elsa is released from her seclusion long enough to be crowned queen and throw not only the doors to the palace open, but a helluva party for the immediate world. Elsa the Queen wears gloves all the time to prevent her from touching anything and turning it to ice. Anna, traveling a distant parallel path, falls in love with open doors, her people, and one sweet (or so we think) Prince Hans (John Riddle). The two dance their way into being engaged, and this is when the poo hits the pan. Elsa may be afflicted but she knows when her sister is making a b-i-g-m-i-s-t-a-k-e. Her upset and refusal to bless the engagement grows exponentially until the entire kingdom of Arendelle is buried in snow and ice - it is f-r-o-z-e-n. Elsa sees what her behavior is creating and flees for the northern most mountain anywhere. This is the hero who retreats.

In order to save her sister and her country, Ana takes off on her own to rescue Elsa. This is the hero who accepts the challenge. Along the way she meets the requisite allies (heroes ain't nuthin' without peeps). Kristoff (Jelani Alladin) a regular mountain guy and purveyor of fine ice blocks, his companion Sven (Andrew Pirozzi) the REINDEER (and this is one spectacular beast) and completing the quartet is Olaf the Snowman (Greg Hildreth) who is the very one the two girls created as children. He is now come to life and eager to please.

This all works out just fine, with a couple of twists. As the ancient ones warned Elsa, "Fear is the enemy." And love is of course the answer. But this is not ye old "true love" where the damsel in distress gets saved by the gentleman caller. Oh no. This love is all about sisters. Oh, the men are there - the good and the bad. And the hilarious in the form of Duke of Weselton (Robert Creighton) who is so oily he nearly oozes. His quick tango with the chorus had the audience barking laughs. It was however, too short. If you are going to play fast and loose with the story line, the least you could do is give the comic relief a bit more room in the tent. When is someone going to write a Broadway musical for Creighton to carry on his own? (Full disclosure - I am a big fan.)

And the writers do play fast and loose. The basic plot is there but the order of side events is ass over teakettle in case you care, which no one seemed to. There are also several numbers that serve no purpose other than to kill time for a scene or costume change. Nude sauna participants? Seriously? More than one item that could be surgically removed without missing a beat in the actual story.

That being said, this is a timely show for the #MeToo and the #TimesUp era. Amazing that the movie came out 5 years ago. Women risking their lives for one another is a theme we could use more of because guess what? It happens every day. And the audience agrees. This audience was in full throat at every calamity, each special effect (BRILLIANT!), and every blazing song (Levy and Murin have some serious pipes). They roared their approval at every triumph and were ready to accept the challenge Elsa proclaimed:

Let it go...
Let it go...
And I'll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone
Here I stand in the light of day
Let the storm rage on

Not for nuthin' but on the night in question I saw more booster seats than I have ever seen at a show. Let us not forget, however, the busloads of adults who were there so that "the kids would see the show."

PS - more than half of the kids I saw were of the male persuasion. And many of them with their fathers. Start them on the right track while they are young. Yes indeedy.

(Photo by Deen van Meer)

What the popular press says...

"The problem has nothing to do with the performances, which are never less than professional if seldom much more than that. As Elsa, Caissie Levy booms out her numbers with astonishing aplomb — her "Let It Go" really is sensational — and, as Anna, Patti Murin makes a charming madcap. Both find what nuances they can in characters very narrowly drawn to type. It's therefore a huge relief, and feels fully genuine, when they get to share a fleeting smile or giggle. That they almost never sing together as they head out on separate adventures is a structural problem no one has solved."
Jesse Green for New York Times

"The family-friendly musical "Frozen" — based on the 2013 animated blockbuster that's made $1.3 billion worldwide — is bound to enchant young fans. After all, it's cool seeing cartoon heroines Elsa, who blasts blizzards with a wrist flick, and Anna, her adoring but awkward sister, in 3-D. Maybe even better is spending time with huggable snowman Olaf and reindeer Sven. On the other hand, adults, with or without tots, may not be as thrilled by this polished but predictable and wow-free adaptation."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News

"This Frozen is like Elsa in protective gloves; it plays things safe, and perhaps that will be enough for fans of the movie who want to see some version of it on Broadway. But in its reluctance to embrace its own potential enchantments, the show will likely leave many people lukewarm."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York

"Watching Frozen, the first mental readjustment you have to make is that despite its on-trend female-empowerment thrust and its marriage of traditional stage techniques with technological innovation, this is fundamentally an old-fashioned fairy tale for tykes and tweens. In fact, it has more in common with Disney's pathfinding stage success, Beauty and the Beast, than with the more boldly reimagined shows that followed."
David Rooney for Hollywood Reporter

"Caissie Levy is stunning as Elsa, the beautiful princess with the cursed gift to turn her kingdom into ice, and Patti Murin makes a darling Anna, the earthbound princess whose love for her sister is the only thing that can set Elsa free."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety

External links to full reviews from popular press...

New York Times - New York Daily NewsTime Out - Hollywood Reporter - Variety

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