I got to see Frozen on Broadway on Wednesday night. It has not even been in previews in New York for a week, so to get to see such a hugely anticipated show so early on in it’s life cycle was, by default, very exciting.
Some background on this particular show. I saw the movie in it’s first week in theatres back in 2013. I went because I was and am an enormous Idina Menzel fan. I hadn’t seen trailers for it or anything, I knew nothing about it. I saw it six times in theatres becauase it stuck with me so much. The story, despite what many skeptics think, is so moving. The movie for ME felt very personal. It came out at a time when I was very isolated, and when I was biding my time during a hugely secret and transformative time of life. So naturally, something about Elsa felt personal.
I say all of this to illustrate that I will never forget the way the movie made me feel. Even now watching the movie brings back very vivid associations. My love for the story and score are eternal, and though I do not always feel the way I felt then, Elsa was something of a champion with a big voice during a time when I was all in my head.
The moment the lights went down, I had goosebumps. Hearing the voices humming the same opening sequence from the movie impacted me physically.
What I did very much appreciate about the musical is that it was not the movie plopped on a stage.
The beginning of the show is quite a bit different than the film, a new opening number and MUCH more exposition between Young Anna/Elsa. The show did a slightly better job of painting their early relationship than the film did, giving them more time to show us that they truly were close. The show also did a much better job at deepening the relationship between Elsa and her parents. In the movie, it comes off as shame, in the musical, it comes off as helpless parents desperate to try and help their daughter control herself so that all can be okay within their family again. Both are powerful and both work in their own ways, but I did prefer the stage version of the beginning.
Anna and Elsa build Olaf early on (just like in the film) and sing a new song while doing it ‘A little bit of you…a little bit of me…’ This theme repeats throughout and eventually is what introduces Olaf to Anna and Kristoff later, starting to jog her memory. This was highly effective in showcasing to the audience one of the positives of Elsa’s powers.
Hans and Anna meet by falling into Kristoff’s cart on his way into the palace, adding another character touchpoint. Hans and Anna’s first interaction was not quite as charming or swoony in the musical as it is in the movie, but it was still cute. Then Hans has a new song added (Hans of the Southern Isles). It’s not a standalone, but it does introduce his character quite nicely.
I really liked the moments between Anna and Elsa at the coronation. I loved them in the film too. They add a bit more to the stage version to give the two a moment to re-connect, which I thought was sweet. Again, their relationship, I think, is quite beautiful and very naturally earns the audience’s affection. It’s after the coronation that Act1 takes off very quickly.
A few things about the rest of Act 1, which plot-wise is quite similar to the film:
1. The lighting/set effects to show ice and snow are actually quite excellent. They spread across the whole proscenium, stage, and snow falls in the background. The ice is beautiful.
2. ‘What Do You Know About Love’ is one of the best new songs in the show. It’s catchy, it gives Kristoff and Anna a moment to bicker and then earn each other’s trust. I liked it a lot.
3. The Duke of Weaselton has a much more villain-y role in the musical.
4. Olaf…my only major issue with the stage show. I know he’s an animated snowman and their options are limited. But in the film, the character is endearing, funny, and tugs at the heartstrings at times. In the show…he still has his funny moments, but I was not in love with the way they executed the character physically (again, limited options I know!). My main issue was, when you can see the actor playing him standing behind the giant puppet, he loses so much of his adorable factor (which, sorry, I think the animated snowman is so lovable). In addition, his dialogue wasn’t changed much from the movie, but it wasn’t delivered in quite as great a way. As I see the show again and again, I am sure my opinion will rise. But rather than being an integeral part of the journey, he seemed more like a way to sell dolls and a nostalgia act. Nothing knocking on on Greg’s performance, as he is very talented.
5. No one sings Let It Go better than Idina. There is something about Idina’s performance of the song that to me is just un-touchable. And I am not an Idina purist. I think plenty of people *technically* have better voices and have sung songs and played roles better than she has. But something about the way she plays Elsa to me remains pretty much unfoilable. However, Caissie Levy KNOCKED the song out of the park, and I never use this word….but the very last second before the lights blacked out at the end of the act…was FIERCE.
Act 2 was introduced by the Big Summer Blowout people from the movie who have an entire song, where they dance naked covered by plants. It was bizzare but not unwelcome.
The biggest difference between the film and the movie here was ‘Monster,’ which is Caissie Levy’s vocal peak of the show. She absolutely destroyed the vocal and the emotion, though the staging seemed a little bit rushed.
The moment in Frozen that always makes me feel something is the moment between Anna and Elsa at the very end, after Anna unfreezes and tells Elsa she loves her. It truly drives the whole message of the movie home, that love conquers and in this case, thaws.
The cast is rock solid. Perhaps the ‘weak link’ in this case is Greg Hildreth, who still gives a fine performance. I just didn’t feel much warmth or endearment from Olaf. However, as I mentioned, that’s largely due to changes to the script and the nature of the character’s physical presence. He sings very well, he delivers his dialogue effectively. His performance is good, his character hasn’t been fully found.
John Riddle is very charming as Hans, and he carries out the his sweet guy facade right up until the very end. Based on his performance, one wonders if the twist in his character is even coming. His voice is glorious, he’s a smooth actor and does a wonderful job embodying Hans.
Jelani Alladdin is the perfect Kristoff. The character is a little smoother and less rough around the edges in the musical than he is in the movie, and the chemistry and relationship he develops with Patti Murin’s Anna is adorable, endearing and sweet.
Caissie Levy obviously is a knockout as Elsa, her voice shines. The character now has four songs to herself, as well as a few vocal moments with Anna. The first song Elsa sings (which admittedly I cannot remember the title to) was an internal monologue, very much acting through song. And Caissie does do an excellent job as an actress. The role however, is much more vocal-centric. Elsa’s intentions and heart are on display, but her character is not as 3D as it could have been.
They left that for Anna, played by a delightfully lovable Patti Murin. If anyone receives a nomination in the acting categories for this show, it should be her. While she’s a little bit shunted in the song department, her character has the greatest ‘arc’ of anyone. She very much plays the role sweet but spunky, but a little less outright quirky than Kristen Bell.
I love this show. It stayed true to the film but has its own integrity. I can’t wait to see it again.