By Beki Pineda
FROZEN. Music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez; book by Jennifer Lee; directed by Michael Grandage. Produced by Disney Theatrical Productions (presented by Denver Center for the Performing Arts Broadway at the Buell Theatre, 14th and Curtis streets, Denver) through Oct. 1, 2017. Tickets available at 303-893-4100 or denvercenter.org.
As one of the perhaps three people left in the country who hadn’t seen the animated movie FROZEN, I came into this production blind. I didn’t know the story; I had never heard the music (except for the ubiquitous LET IT GO); I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was— if you believe in curses and magic—a highly plausible story full of familial love, humor, adventure and enjoyable music. Since seeing it, I decided I wanted to watch the movie to see what had been preserved and what was new. What I found was a lot of new music in the stage version. While keeping favorites like “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”, “Love is an Open Door” and “Fixer Upper,” they have also added songs that enhance the story. “A Little Bit of You” solidifies the relationship between the sisters when they are children. “What Do You Know About Love” emphasizes the isolation of Anna’s life and establishes the jocular relationship of Kristoff and Anna. “True Love” answers the question of what will melt the snow.
Perhaps the most sprightly addition is the Act Two opener when Oaken’s family sings and dances “Hygge,” a word that means comfortable, satisfying, happy. Discovering a spider in your shoe? Not hygge! To illustrate how comfortable—or hygge—they all are, his LARGE family dances out of the spa dressed only in leg warmers, hats and leafy branches used to cover significant parts of their bodies. It reminded me a little of the fish-slapping song from SPAMALOT in that it didn’t especially add to the story, but it’s one of the songs you’ll walk out humming.
Just so you aren’t disappointed, the other omissions discovered by watching the source movie was the replacement of the trolls with more humanoid but equally mystical satyr-like characters and the elimination of the Snow Monster.
Kudos must be given to the Elsas and Annas, both young and grown. The young Anna performing on opening night (the roles are double-cast) was delightful in her energy and clarity. She captured you with her joie de vivre and then with her sadness when her life changed so drastically. Young Elsa was equally poignant with the discovery of the destructive nature of her “gift.” As the sisters grow into adulthood, Patti Murin blossoms as the free-spirited but needy Anna. Her plunge into romance was believable and touching, as were the innocence and guilelessness of her suitor, Hans of the Southern Isles (John Riddle). His charm in Act One escalated his treachery in Act Two. Caissie Levy as Elsa brought the character’s stoicism and love for her sister to glorious life. Her voice is magnificent and her presence strong and true.
Special consideration must be given to two supporting actors who go above and beyond to bring their characters to life. To answer the question everyone was asking, Sven the reindeer is portrayed by one man, Andrew Pirozzi, inside the complicated WAR HORSE-like puppet mechanism. But this man must be the strongest, most dedicated man in theater to walk on both hand and leg stilts three feet above the ground, maneuver the headpiece, achieve a lovable character, and NEVER have his face seen by the audience. No matter how hygge puppet designer Michael Currey was able to make the gear, to live inside this reindeer body for as long as Pirozzi does in the complicated positions that must be achieved, he has be so relieved when he can jog off stage and rest for a moment. This is where my Tony vote would go if I had one. Also working with a tricky puppet setup is Greg Hildreth as Olaf, the goofy and sweet snowman who loves warm hugs. When he makes his first appearance, an audience member might notice peripherally that there is a man with a puppet attached to the front of his body. But after about 30 seconds, the man disappears and Olaf takes over, moving feet, hands and head without seeming to move anything. Congratulations to two highly accomplished actors who disappear inside their characters.
Sometimes when something is hyped so much, your expectations are so high that you can’t help being disappointed. This show lives up to the hype and then some. It has taken special effects to a new level; you’ve NEVER seen anything like what they do on this stage in terms of frozen delights. But no spoilers here. The fun is in the unexpectedness and surprise of it. If you think Act One is full of tricks, just wait till Act Two. There’s no slowing down. The combination of sound, lights, video, projections and—let’s face it—magic will make you doubt what you are seeing. I cannot applaud the special-effects team led by Jeremy Chernick enough.
Everyone on the production team is to be congratulated for their achievements: Mr. Grandage’s direction, which is determined to honor the original movie while telling a bigger story; Rob Ashford’s choreography, including folk dancing, lovely waltzes and butt-baring burlesque; the costume design by Christopher Oram, which added to the authenticity and color of the production; the beautiful music of conductor Brian Usifer; the lighting design; the backstage crew that makes the magic work; the scenic painters who created the world of Anna and Elsa. We should honor the commitment of even the corporate suits who thought, “We can do this,” and then did.
Denver is honored to be hosting this out-of-town preview. It’s not often we can say, “We saw it first.”
WOW factor: 10