If you haven’t heard, Frozen, the mega-hit 2013 animated film, will be coming to Broadway in February 2018. The Broadway-bound Frozen is now in the middle of a limited run at the Buell Theater in Denver where I recently was able to see a preview of what will be coming to Broadway.
Disney has a long history of bringing its animated classics to the Broadway stage, the most successful being “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Lion King.” “The Lion King,” which opened in 1997, still runs on Broadway alongside “Aladdin.”
I’ve seen most of Disney’s Broadway productions and one thing I’ve come to expect, and look forward to, is how the stage versions differ from their film counterparts. “The Lion King” uses beautiful African inspired masks and puppets to help tell the story. “Mary Poppins” added additional scenes from the P.L. Travers’ books. “Aladdin” brought us new characters and new take on a classic Disney song. “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” gave us mashup of Victor Hugo’s novel with Disney’s music. It’s always fun seeing which songs, characters, and scenes from the original make it into the stage version and what new things will be added.
Frozen strays from this trend by largely staying true to the animated film. The book, written by Jennifer Lee (Co-Director of the animated Frozen), follows the same story arch as the film with all of the same characters and much of the same dialogue. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez are back writing the music for the stage show where they bring back all the songs from the film with around 14 new songs. The new songs brought about the chance for a duet between Anna and Kristoff and a hilarious song for Oaken called “Hygge” which had the whole audience laughing.
Because Frozen on Broadway was announced just months after the film was released to capitalize on it’s popularity, it makes sense that Disney would not want to stray too far from film. After all, why mess with something that has proven so popular and that many have undoubtedly seen many times? It’s easy to see why some might be unhappy with Disney changing the story too much. However, I think they’re currently struggling with finding a balance between keeping it fresh and exciting and just telling the same old story. This was evident when dialogue and jokes that were seemingly lifted straight from the film fell flat with the audience (something I’ve never experienced at one of Disney’s Broadway shows). However, that’s why they do these previews. The creative team will have a few months until the show’s Broadway debut to fix what’s not working. The bright side is that the few new jokes that were added were funny and well received by the audience.
The performances by everyone in the show were very strong. The two young girls portraying Young Anna and Young Elsa stole the first few scenes in the show. Caissie Levy, who like Idina Menzel also played Elphaba in Wicked on Broadway, can hit all the same notes and does justice to “Let It Go.” Patti Murin, who plays Anna, brings the same fun and energetic personality to the character as Kristen Bell. Greg Hildreth does such a good job channeling his inner Josh Gad that if you closed your eyes you would think it was Josh Gad himself on stage.
The special effects are understated compared to Frozen Live at Disney’s California Adventure, but that’s appropriate given this show is on its way to Broadway where high tech special effects are few and far between. While they use some projections, they rely more on physical effects, lighting, and set design to convey Elsa’s icy magical powers.
Overall, this was good show and I think any fan of Frozen would enjoy seeing it, just as many did in the Denver audience. With a few tweaks and changes, it could be great. The beauty of these previews is that the creative team is watching the audience and always evaluating what’s working and what is not. As Kristen Anderson-Lopez told the New York Times, “We’re only halfway up the mountain, even though we’ve been working on this for four years. You stand there in the back, and you listen for laughs, and you listen for the moments. And then your job after that show is how to figure it out.” I look forward to seeing how this show grows and evolves into the final version that will make its official Broadway debut in next spring.