Between the holiday season, the recent release of Frozen 2 in movie theaters, and the arrival of the musical version of Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre, things are feeling quite festive. Based on the 2013 Disney film and produced for the stage by Disney Theatrical Productions, Frozen opened on Broadway in March 2018, where it still runs today in addition to the tour currently visiting Los Angeles.
With music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and a book by Jennifer Lee, Frozen tells the story of two sisters, Elsa (Caroline Bowman) and Anna (Caroline Innerbichler) who live in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle. As children, young Elsa (Alyssa Kim) and young Anna (Stella R. Cobb) are inseparable. But Elsa has magic powers that allow her to manipulate and create ice and snow, and one day while playing she accidentally injures her sister. Their parents, the King (Kyle Lamar Mitchell) and Queen (Marina Kondo) call upon the Hidden Folk, who live in the forest and possess magic themselves. They are able to heal Anna and also wipe her memories, and from that day on, she is hurt and baffled as to why her sister avoids her. One day, while on a journey through the sea to attempt to find answers that may help Elsa control her magic, their parents drown in a boating accident. Once she is of age, Elsa becomes queen, but she must hide her powers from both the kingdom and her sister for everyone’s safety. She is unable to do so and inadvertently launches Arendelle into a catastrophic eternal winter, fleeing in shame. Anna must team up with Kristoff (Mason Reeves), an ice harvester whose best friend is his reindeer, Sven (Collin Baja), and Olaf (F. Michael Haynie), a happy snowman Elsa brought to life, to find her sister and save the kingdom.
Directed by Michael Grandage, the changes made for the stage are fairly minimal. There are no trolls, and instead the act two number “Fixer Upper” is sung by the Hidden Folk, an addition for this version that we now know was also foreshadowing for the plot of Frozen 2. Since the movie only featured about seven songs, there are 12 new ones that have been added. As is typically the case with Disney stage adaptations, the new songs do not stack up to the beloved originals. The strongest newcomer is “Monster,” a big act two power ballad sung by Elsa as she contemplates the consequences of her actions.
These adaptations typically live or die based on how they deliver the iconic moments, the ones fans of the movie buy a ticket to see brought to life, and Frozen does well in that regard. “Let It Go” closes act one and features a dazzling mid-song costume change that made the opening night audience cheer, as well as impressive stagecraft. The set (Christopher Oram, also costumes), lighting (Natasha Katz), and special effects (Jeremy Chernick) combine to create a truly magical moment. Those with children who constantly sing this song will likely notice its key has been lowered for the stage, a wise choice given the difficulty and the need for the actress playing Elsa to belt it out eight times a week. Bowman handles it well, bringing a lot of sass and swagger to the character, particularly in the second act when, to my delight, she even gets to wear pants.
The standout of the cast is Innerbichler, who infuses Anna with personality the animated version of the character never really got to have. Whether she’s dueting on “Love Is An Open Door” with her love interest, Hans (Austin Colby, also delightful) or excitedly bouncing around her bedroom during “The First Time in Forever,” she brings an endearing awkwardness and likability to the character that really drives the emotional arc of the story forward. Haynie, who visibly walks around the stage manipulating an Olaf puppet while singing, in probably the best easily feasible version of doing this they could come up with, is another highlight, drawing laughs whenever he appears.
The musical is not without its missteps. “Hygge,” the act two opener, is a true head-scratcher of a choice. It expands upon the scene where Anna and Kristoff visit a training post to restock on winter gear. The number literally ends with patrons of a sauna high-kicking in nude bodysuits, covering their unmentionables with giant leaves and singing about coziness. It is bizarre and adds nothing to the story, and there was surely a better option for a song to put in this key slot. But ultimately, as the Disney Theatrical productions go, Frozen falls solidly in the middle of the pack. It does not elevate the source material the way The Lion King managed to, nor is it a cringe-worthy disaster like The Little Mermaid. It is just magical, enchanting fun, and by the time “snow” falls on the audience at the end, you will not be able to wipe the smile off your face.
Frozen runs at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through February 2nd. The running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission. The actors named in this review for the roles of Young Anna, Young Elsa, and Sven rotate in their roles and do not appear at all performances. Tickets start at $39 and can be purchased here. For a chance to win $25 tickets, you can enter the daily digital lottery. The show is also currently running on Broadway, and those tickets are available here. After Los Angeles, the tour will play Seattle, Portland, San Diego, and more. For more information and to purchase tickets for other cities, click here. A West End production is scheduled to begin previews in October 2020.