The musical “Frozen” is technologically and visually stunning, but entirely unnecessary.
While Disney Theatrical Productions may have set out to build a snowman – and does with Olaf being given new life by his puppeteer – the end result still presents a six-year-old story with not enough new elements to justify its existence. The perfectly cast ensemble alongside a stellar a production value manage to transport the entire theatre into the magic of Arendelle. Running at the Hollywood Pantages Theatre through Feb. 2, the musical is a joyride carrying all the nostalgia of the original film – but the addition of new songs and subplots does little to set it apart from its predecessor.
Like the film, “Frozen” the musical begins with “Vuelie,” a hymn honoring Scandinavian culture, before diving into the relationship between the two iconic sisters. Stella Cobb and Alyssa Kim play the younger versions of the animated duo, and their performance foreshadows the brilliance of the ones to follow. Cobb especially is able to capture the mischievousness of Young Anna, pestering her sister with butt jokes.
Caroline Innerbichler follows Cobb’s performance as Anna ages, bringing to life an awkward, sheltered young woman. Her performance amplifies all the endearing characteristics of the animated character, with a particular exaggeration on her childlike excitement for coronation day and opening up the gates of the castle. But as the production advances, “Frozen” dives into the same old story with very few surprises along the way, and the cast can only do so much to elevate the tired plot.
The production instead infuses amazement into the actual moving pieces on stage. With an ending already familiar to many, the attention is instead drawn to how the musical pulls off its ice effects and scene changes. Lighting, special effects and set design transforms the musical into a full immersion experience, transporting the entire theater into Arendelle. The magic happens on the peripherals of the stage itself, with moving set pieces, fog machines, snowy sparkles shooting out of bed frames and projections of Elsa’s (Caroline Bowman) “frozen fractals.”
Elsa’s dress change, of course, is a stunning scene stealer. Belting out “Let It Go,” Bowman’s gloves and cape fly off the stage as sparkling snowflakes hang from the ceiling. In the flurry of glitter, Elsa’s Arendelle regalia is ripped from her body as she transforms into the character so many young girls have been obsessed with. With her performance of the culturally defining song, Bowman epitomizes the icy queen, her high notes reverberating across the the theater space.
[Related: Movie Review: ‘Frozen’]
Glitter and sparkles aside, the joy and wonder of the production is found in its side characters and animal friends. Sven – the larger than life reindeer portrayed by Collin Baja – is seen prancing around the stage in a furry reindeer suit, adding a human element to Kristoff’s (Mason Reeves) companion. Similarly, when Olaf is introduced, he is seen with his puppeteer, F. Michael Haynie, creating a sense of life to a character who could have easily been technologically built.
While these attempts to humanize the characters could have come across as cheesy and cliche, the actors are integrated seamlessly into the production. And as Baja composes an epic rendition of “In Summer” with the season projected in large orange block letters hanging from the ceiling, one falls in love with the snowman all over again.
Despite these riveting production elements, “Frozen” the musical hits its first bumps through Kristoff. With Reeves was perfectly casted, the production tries to provide his character with a more depth than he was given in the animated film, but his journey in coming to care for Anna comes off cliche and surface-level. With only a couple more added scenes, his love for Anna doesn’t feel any more genuine even with “Kristoff Lullaby,” which he sings to a dying Anna in the second act.
Similarly, Hans (Austin Colby) is unable to draw out much of an emotional reaction. Once again, the actor is not to blame – Hans’ eventual betrayal just doesn’t translate well on stage. In the original film, Hans’ chilling turn in his rejection of Anna felt intimate, his face large and imposing on screen. Meanwhile, Colby’s face is only a speck in the distance for those in the mezzanine, reducing the scene’s heart-breaking tension.
As a musical, “Frozen” falls in the vein of much of Disney’s other remakes and live-actions – it regurgitates the same peaks and lows as their originals and fails to bring anything new to the table. The saving grace of the musical becomes the fact that the original is so well loved that reliving it doesn’t seem like a chore
With “Frozen 2” in theaters, it truly is time to “Let It Go” and look ahead to new stories and snowmen.