Regional Reviews: Raleigh/Durham
Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, "The Snow Queen," the fable follows the story of Princesses Elsa (performed with gusto by Caelan Creaser) and Anna of Arendelle (an equally fantastic Lauren Nicole Chapman). Elsa, who was born with the magical ability to create and control snow and ice, tries to hide her ability after accidentally injuring her sister when they are very young. After the King and Queen (Michael Everett and Natalie Wisdom, respectively) are killed at sea in a storm, the reclusive Elsa inherits the throne, desperate to keep her powers hidden. But at her coronation service, Anna's impulsive decision to marry the handsome Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (sung wonderfully by Will Savarese) provokes Elsa to accidentally unleash her power before the court. Branded as a monster by the Duke of Weselton (a very funny Evan Duff), Elsa flees the kingdom, but not before freezing Arendelle in an eternal winter. Anna seeks out her sister with the aid of an ice merchant named Kristoff (Dominic Dorset, making a grand professional debut), his reindeer Sven, and Olaf (a delightful Jeremy Davis), a snowman Elsa brought to life. There are a couple plot twists in store as the sisters rediscover a sisterly love that can melt the coldest of hearts.
Jennifer Lee wrote the screenplay for the film, and she's also credited for the book of the stage version, which takes a few liberties with the original film's plot. It is not difficult to see the influence of another mega-musical, Wicked, with its two central female leads, one of whom is misunderstood and forced into isolation for her actions. The stage version of Frozen suffers from some pacing problems, with some plot points taking longer than necessary and others not given enough time to draw audiences in or see a character develop. But the additional songs provided by Oscar-winning composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez fit seamlessly into the story.
Michael Grandage is best known for winning Tony Awards for his direction of plays, and his work for this production shows some of those dramatic qualities. The show is more reliant on singing versus dancing, and though there are several choreographed numbers provided by Rob Ashford, they don't feel particularly inspired. I am still scratching my head over the chorus line of naked sauna inhabitants at the beginning of the second act.
The real strengths of the show lie in its technical achievements. Christopher Oram's beautiful scenic and costume design evoke the film at every turn, while Natasha Katz's lighting design and Finn Ross' video design transform the stage from the halls of Arendelle's castle to Elsa's frozen palace with magical ease. A more modest but equally magical element is Michael Curry's puppet design. He brings fan favorite Olaf the snowman to vibrant life (with the skillful aid of Jeremy Davis there on stage), and Sven the reindeer is a marvel of theatrical creation. Both will delight young and old alike. But all of these technical marvels don't quite elevate the show to a Broadway feel; at many points I was reminded more of stage shows I've seen at Disneyworld.
Frozen is not a classic musical that will be remembered for years to come, but it will delight and entertain many, which is plenty. It would take more than both hands to count the little girls who came dressed as Elsa to the performance I saw. And for those who want more, there is always the ample merchandise waiting in the lobby.
Frozen, presented by Truist Broadway at DPAC, runs through October 2, 2022, at Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St. Durham NC. For tickets and information, please visit www.dpacnc.com or www.ticketmaster.com, call 919-680-2787, or visit the Ticket Center at DPAC in person. For more information on the tour, visit frozenthemusical.com/tickets/.
Music and Lyrics: Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez