Caissie Levy as Elsa in Frozen: The Musical – Photograph Deen van Meer
Venue: St James Theatre, New York
Performance Date: 03 March 2019
In 2013 Disney introduced the world to a heroine who didn’t need to be defined by a man, who’s happily ever after wasn’t riding off into the sunset with a prince and who was the absolute embodiment of female empowerment. In 2013 Disney introduced us to Queen Elsa of Arendelle propelling Frozen into a worldwide phenomenon that would become the highest grossing animated film in history.
Frozen centres around sisters Elsa and Anna princesses of Arendelle. Elsa possesses powers that enable her to create snow and ice. After a childhood accident that injures Anna, Elsa is forced to conceal herself and her powers from everyone and becomes estranged from her sister. Remerging on her coronation day, Elsa is unable to control her powers and in revealing her ‘gift’ flees, inadvertently leaving the town frozen in her wake.
Few could have predicted that Disney’s 53rd motion picture would be the runaway success it was. Inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen the movie grossed an estimated $1.3 billion at the box office. The musical, like the movie, is based on the book by Jenifer Lee, with husband and wife songwriting team Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez behind the songs.
After trialling the musical in Denver, Colorado in 2017, Frozen premiered at the St James Theatre on Broadway where it opened in March 2018 to mixed reviews. Disney stage adaptations have generally done incredibly well with Aladdin and the Lion King continuing stalwarts of the Broadway and West End stage. Although Aladdin is due to close in London in October it will be replaced by Disney’s Mary Poppins, another hugely popular adaption with a rich history of success.
The Frozen script has stayed largely true to the movie with the musical cleverly elevating the characters giving them more of a voice and insight into their motivations. This is achieved in large through the introduction of several new numbers and tweaks to the originals to suit the transfer to the stage.
Much of the initial criticism focused on the perceived weakness of the new numbers. However, on hearing them performed live, these comments are likely due to a lack of familiarity. In fact Dangerous to Dream and Monster are incredibly strong additions to the score, both performed sublimely by Broadway stalwart Caissie Levy as Elsa.
Caissie Levy and Patti Murin have played Elsa and Anna since the show’s opening, performing together for over a year and they play off each other wonderfully. Their bond and closeness are obvious, despite them not actually sharing a whole lot of stage time. Murin’s dorky awkwardness as Anna contrasts beautifully with Levy’s uptight and serious Elsa.
Levy is the perfect Elsa and her performance of Let It Go is a complete show stealer. She has an incredibly rich and powerful voice and personifies Elsa’s pain, agony and shame faultlessly. It is everything you could possibly want from a musical number and there are simply not enough superlatives to describe just how good it is. It is arguably one of the most magical and liberating moments ever to be produced on stage.
Levy’s vocals are complemented by some extraordinary special effects and lighting design by Jeremy Chernick and Natasha Katz respectively. Musical Director Brian Usifer should also be congratulated for leading some beautiful orchestrations by Dave Metzger – the music is at times hypnotic which some incredible harmonisations that illicit goosebumps.
Patti Murin is adorable as the socially awkward Princess Anna; it’s nigh on impossible not to empathise with her as she attempts to process her sister’s constant rejection. Relatively two-dimensional in the movie, the musical has provided us with a much deeper insight into how Anna copes with the rejection and her desperate need for love. Murin plays Anna with just the right balance of comedy and naivety and her character development is a joy to watch.
With three of the principals recently leaving the production, Joe Carroll, Noah J Ricketts and Ryann Redmond joined the cast as Hans, Kristoff and Olaf respectively. Each more than holds their own amongst the well-established cast, with Redmond’s performance of Olaf’s signature number In Summer being a particular highlight.
Redmond has also made history by being the first woman to play Olaf in any production of Frozen anywhere in the world. Her puppetry, timing and vocal ability suit Olaf and he is as endearing as ever with Redmond being a fabulous addition to the company.
Carroll’s portrayal as the duplicitous Hans is believable and he plays the villain with a charming amiability and is solid in his solo performance of the new number Hans of the Southern Isles. His likeability in the role makes it all the more difficult to stomach when his true character is revealed.
Ricketts is assured and confident in his role of Kristoff and the budding romance between Anna and Kristoff builds authentically.
With Frozen 2 due for release in November, a North America tour starting in December and a London transfer in the works for 2020 there are no signs of the Frozen juggernaut slowing down.
The success of the musical should be welcomed and encouraged. If the swathes of wide-eyed, dressed-up children in the audience are anything to go by, Frozen is introducing theatre to a whole new generation– and this can only be a good thing.