Theater Review: FROZEN (North American Tour)

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by Dan Zeff on December 7, 2021

in Theater-Chicago,Tours


The Walt Disney animated film Frozen grossed about $1.28 billion dollars during its international run, and when there is a commercial success like that, reworkings and adaptations cannot be far behind. The franchise has included an animated short in 2015, an animated featurette in 2017, and a feature-length sequel, Frozen II, in 2019 (a live action motion picture is still in the works). In 2016, a successful live Frozen musical stage show opened in Disney California Adventure, so the Disney artistic brain trust opened a Broadway version in 2018, with foreign versions settling in London, Hamburg, Japan, and Australia.

Now, the second leg of a North American tour has settled in for a 10-week run at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. There it should delight the musical’s swarm of adolescent and pre-adolescent female devotees, while providing 2½ hours of legitimate high-level Disney-style entertainment to the kids’ tolerant adult escorts. The opening night was awash in thrilled little ladies, some in costume, and to their credit, and the grasp of the show on the audience, I never heard any disruption from the youngsters who were staying up well beyond their normal bedtimes.

Frozen is a fairy tale about two princesses, Elsa and her younger sister Anna, who cavort in their palace under the tutelage of their indulgent royal parents in a land that becomes eternal winter — the slender reed of a plot gives Elsa the ability to make ice. But her magical icemaking power frightens her parents who see their daughter’s power as potentially dangerous. Early on, the parents die at sea, leaving Elsa in uneasy charge of her wintry magic and providing further yeast for the storyline.

The plot is basically an underpinning for the show’s impressive amount of singing and dancing and comedy. Of course, a live production cannot match the visual opportunities of animation, but the production still thrives with a clutch of strong songs, many of them fresh for the stage production, and the usual assemblage of charming and comic Disney characters. Caroline Innerbichler is a fetching and funny Anna, and her character pretty much carries the show, though Caroline Bowman has her big moments as the more serious and burdened Elsa. Bowman set the audience roaring with her sound barrier braking “Let It Go,” the show’s best known number, to close the first act as well as a fiercely dramatic “Monster” late in the second act.

Alarmed by her magical powers, Elsa flees her castle for the security of the icy mountains. The narrative then picks up with the comic contributions of an ice merchant named Kristoff (Mason Reeves) and his puppet reindeer (alternating appearances by Evan Strand and Collin Baja). But the show’s comic scene stealer is a talking puppet snowman named Olaf manipulated by F. Michael Haynie in the same vein as Broadway’s The Lion King.

There is a standard bland Disney villain in Duke Weselton (Jeremy Morse), who starts out as Anna’s romantic interest and ultimately betraying her to steal the throne of the kingdom. All he gets for his duplicity is a sock in the jaw at the end of the show.

As usual in a Disney show, the production goes first class all the way. The enhanced score by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez with lyrics by Jennifer Lee is filled with numbers that run the mood changes from romance to comedy to defiance and pain. The scenic and costume designs by Christopher Oram are abundant and colorful. Natasha Katz’s lighting delivers startling and stunning special effects throughout the evening. Video designer Finn Ross, puppet designer Michael Curry, and sound designer Peter Hylenski unite to create a fantasy world that makes up in live action creativity what it necessarily cannot match from the wizardry of the Disney animation studios. The entire production is guided by director Michael Grandage with essential contributions from Rob Ashford’s lively ensemble choreography.

Frozen doesn’t quite achieve the emotional impact that made Wicked the champion theatrical experience for girls in our century. I would even rate Beauty and the Beast as higher in the Disney pantheon for its stronger dramatic impact. But any entertainment event that can rivet the attention of a large assemblage of young girls deserves commendation. The final stamp of audience approval came, at least on opening night, from the crush of customers, young and adult, clamoring to buy souvenirs in the lobby.

photos by Deen van Meer

North American tour
reviewed at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 West Randolph St., in Chicago
Thursday and Friday at 7:30, Wed and Sat at 2 and 7:30; Sun at 1 and 6:30
for tickets, dates and cities of the tour, visit Frozen

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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