Regional Reviews: Cincinnati
Frozen is based on the 2013 animated film of the same name, and centers on two princess sisters: Anna and Elsa. Elsa possesses magical powers to freeze things, but she doesn't know how to control it. After her parents' death, Elsa is crowned queen, but she accidentally causes the kingdom to become frozen and nearly kills her sister.
The book for the stage version is by Jennifer Lee, who also wrote the screenplay for the movie. The musical goes more in-depth about a number of plot points, as well as showing more about the longing for a restored relationship by both sisters. Several other twists and turns in the story vary. Act 2 begins with an extended scene at the Oaken sauna, with drinking and fake nakedness by the ensemble (using flesh-toned body suits). Though it's all done tastefully, some parents may want to be aware of this when bringing little ones. The book has lots of effective humor, just the right amount of romance, and universal messages worth contemplating.
The score by Kristen Andersen-Lopez (In Transit) and Robert Lopez (Avenue Q, The Book of Mormon) includes well-known songs from the film such as "Let It Go," "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?," "Love Is an Open Door," and "In Summer," as well as new ones. Among the new titles, "Dangerous to Dream" provides deeper insight in Elsa's desire to share her secret with Anna, and "Monster" shows Elsa's inner conflict. The songs are all extremely catchy and contain witty and fun lyrics.
Director Michael Grandage has crafted an adult musical that still appeals to young theatergoers familiar with the story and songs. The opening sequences set the story in motion effectively, and the flow and blocking of the piece is well suited to storytelling as well. Rob Ashford's choreography is fun and fluid, with the funny, modern dance moves of "Love Is an Open Door" especially noteworthy. Faith Seetoo leads a strong 11-piece orchestra.
Frozen's national tour cast is a talented one. At the performance I attended, understudy Berklea Going portrayed Anna, skillfully capturing the eager, goofy, and strong characteristics of the younger princess, and showing off a strong singing voice. As Elsa, Caroline Bowman is tremendously impressive vocally, providing powerhouse renditions of "Let It Go" and other big numbers. Mason Reeves is an endearing and humorous Kristoff, Austin Colby does very well with both "sides" of Hans, and both actors supply great singing. F. Michael Haynie garners lots of laughs as Olaf, singing the snowman's material with the necessary funny inflections and manipulating the puppet skillfully throughout. Evan Strand doesn't say a word, but deserves kudos for the physical work in performing the role of Sven the reindeer. There are a number of other featured roles, and all of the actors in those parts and within the ensemble perform admirably. There is masterful choral work provided as well.
The massive set design by Christopher Oram incorporates many layers and effectively integrates video elements by Finn Ross and other special effects by Jeremy Chernick to show the freezing brought forth by Elsa. Mr. Oram also supplies the costumes, which are varied, vibrant, and provide enough of a nod to the film while also pulling in new ideas. The lighting by Natasha Katz is at the usual expert level we've come to expect from her. The sound design by Peter Hylenski includes some cool effects, though the execution of the sound was rough during "Fixer Upper" at the performance I attended.
Frozen isn't high art, but it is a strong stage adaptation of the Disney animated film and one with enough poignancy and bite to please grown-up audiences as well as the many children in attendance. The tour boasts a strong cast, and we're likely to see this show join the stable of musicals that we'll see every few years or so on tour.
Frozen runs through May 1, 2022, at the Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St., Cincinnati OH. For tickets and information, call 513-621-2787 or visit cincinnati.broadway.com. For more information on the tour, visit frozenthemusical.com.