Many pearls have been clutched about the evil Disney machine — and frankly, many of those pearl clutches are warranted. But some of the Disney musical hate revolves around inviting the “wrong” kinds of people into the theater space — young, lower-class or new audiences who are uneducated on the artform. Rather ironically the commercialization of theater is contributing to the democratization of theater. At the opening of “Frozen” at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, dozens of Elsas (of all ages and genders) packed the house to see their favorite heroine onstage, some no doubt attending their first live theater show. Nothing can melt a jaded theater snob’s heart faster than hearing a hundred children gasp in delight at a puppet come to life.
Adapting an animated movie to the stage poses particular challenges, the biggest being compensating for the hyper-editing in animation that rapidly cuts between dozens of images and gags in the space of one scene or song. Moments from the film that felt energetic hold more negative space, placing the onus on the actors and dancers to emote and fill what — in comparison — now seems like a chasm of empty space. Actor Caroline Innerbichler as the plucky Anna successfully dead-lifts the energy level for the entire show, shifting manically from mood to thought to joke in the time-honored tradition immortalized by Robin Williams as the Genie in “Aladdin.” As Anna, one of the more relatable of the Disney princesses, Innerbichler revels in playing a role with range and depth, and occasional bouts of gas. (There are fart jokes aplenty.) In the duet “Love Is an Open Door,” she and a stellar Austin Colby as Hans deliver a dance routine guaranteed to impress.
Elsa, played by Caroline Bowman, is an imposing force with a show-stopper voice that is able to breathe new life and zest into the overplayed “Let It Go.” Elsa’s character, the queen who flees after accidentally freezing her kingdom with powers she can’t control, is less broad than her sister Ana’s, but Bowman makes the most of the one-note brooding she’s been assigned. “Frozen’s” success is partially due to its feminist messaging, which centers the two women for the majority of the musical, and passes the Bechdel test in a way that most other works of art on stage or screen don’t. The sisters aren’t bickering mean girls; they support each other and show genuine concern. While this choice may be only for the benefit of the kids, a story where the women aren’t catty sadly seems revolutionary.
Less revolutionary is the costuming of the Hidden Folk, who are permutations of the trolls from the movie, the two leads of this group played by an extraordinarily entertaining Tyler Jimenez and Brit West. In the translation of trolls to human form, the costumes become generically tribal, in a stylistic choice that initially seems odd given the Norwegian roots of the Snow Queen fable from which “Frozen” takes its inspiration. It is possible that costume designer Christopher Oram was trying to draw inspiration from the Gauls, but he doesn’t stick the landing, a fault underscored by the audience’s puzzled reaction when these characters show up. Having said that, he makes up for this stumble with Elsa’s iconic costume change. Jeremy Chernick’s dazzling special effects keep our eyes moving past the thinner moments in plot and character development.
Mason Reeves is charming and silly as Kristoff, the iceman who comes to Anna’s aid, and the outstanding puppetry of his reindeer Sven (Evan Strand and Collin Baja) by puppet designer Michael Curry is alone worth the price of admission. The true star of the show was the snowman Olaf, a hilarious F. Michael Haynie, whose appearance onstage was greeted by the kids like a rock star.
The choreography by Rob Ashford is sensational, even if the blocking occasionally felt cramped. Marina Kondo and Kyle Lamar Mitchell are a kindly and regal King and Queen, And the child actors playing Young Anna and Young Elsa (Victoria Hope Chan, Olivia Jones, Natalie Grace Chan, and Natalia Artigas) are a delightful invitation for the young, and young of heart, to settle in and enjoy a story full of magic.