Frozen fans nervous about Disney’s stage adaptation of the beloved 2013 movie can, pardon the pun, let it go.
The new Broadway musical, which opened Thursday at New York City’s St. James Theatre, brings to life the sweet story — loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Snow Queen — in a faithful and fun production that is sure to melt your heart.
It’s hard to remember, but when Frozen first hit cinemas five years ago, it was a revolution for Disney. The film not only returned the House of Mouse to the animation heights it last reached in the ’90s with hits like The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, it also presented something audiences hadn’t seen in a Disney movie before: two sister princesses, each fighting to find her own “happily ever after” without the help of any Prince Charmings.
That story, penned by the film’s screenwriter and co-director Jennifer Lee, remains the same onstage. And though familiar, it comes across just as groundbreaking here as an audience full of kids and parents cheer on two strong female leads.
Changes have been made, of course.
Anna and Elsa (the magnetic Patti Murin and Caissie Levy, respectively) are still polar-opposite siblings whose lives are turned into turmoil when Elsa unleashes her long-suppressed powers to manipulate ice and snow, placing their kingdom of Arendelle under a deep freeze. And Elsa still flees for sanctuary while her sister runs to help her.
But with the stage making it impossible to recreate some of the movie’s more eye-catching action sequences (like, say, that battle with an oversized ice monster), Lee has fleshed out some of the story’s key plot points with new scenes and reworked characters.
It turns out those changes help Frozen feel more magical.
Elsa’s isolation is far more understood, as is Anna’s frustration with being shut out from her life. Supporting characters like the ice-seller-next-door Kristoff (newcomer Jelani Alladin in a bright debut) and practical prince Hans (John Riddle, impossible not to love even after his character’s true motives are revealed) are given more time to shine.
Even Olaf (puppeteered by the hilarious Greg Hildreth) gets a few new punchlines in.
One potentially divisive change: The rock trolls are now mystical Hidden Folk, creatures from Scandinavian folklore summoned by a tribal chant. They’re explained in a way that feels woven into the story rather than added for exposition, though their glowing eyes, tattered clothes and floating tails might take some getting used to.
Songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s beloved score has more than doubled, with 12 new songs blending seamlessly with favorites like “Love Is an Open Door” and “For the First Time in Forever” (say goodbye to “Frozen Heart,” that’s been cut).
Elsa’s earth-shattering anthem “Monster” will have you questioning good vs. evil, while Anna’s 11 o’clock heartbreaker “True Love” will have you reaching for the tissues. The Act II opener “Hygge” might be the most risqué Disney has ever gotten in a musical, with villagers enjoying a “nude” trip to the spa.
But really, Frozen comes down to two sparkling performances by Murin and Levy.
Each actress seems born to play her role.
Murin effortlessly conveys Anna’s sweetness and spunk, and the comedic brilliance she displays throughout gives Frozen some of its best moments. She’s easily the heart of the show. When singing, she’s bright and beautiful; when acting, earnest and endearing in every scene. Murin’s Anna isn’t just a hero you want to have on your side; she’s also someone you hope to be one day.
Levy, meanwhile, does the seemingly impossible: she lets you feel every moment of Elsa’s sadness and fear without ever appearing weak. She’s a princess (in pants!) who is flawed, but no longer apologizing for those flaws, and Levy embodies that strength.
And then there’s what she does with “Let It Go.” When the first notes on the song start playing, a wave of anticipation rolls through the audience. By the time that note comes — accompanied by one of the most dazzling costume changes you’ll see on Broadway — it’ll take everything in your power not to jump for joy.
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If there is a crack in this ice castle, it would be that Frozen sometimes lacks the innovation seen in other Disney on Broadway offerings, like The Lion King, Aladdin, or even the now-closed Mary Poppins.
Still, director Michael Grandage does a respectable job of landing the massive property on its feet. And the gorgeous work done by his design team (Christopher Oram on sets and costumes, Natasha Katz on lighting, Jeremy Chernick on special effects, and Finn Ross on video design) keep the production looking top-notch all the way through.
By the time the snow falls from the sky during curtain call — and the two princesses stand center stage, hand-in-hand — it’s hard not to feel like you’ve just witnessed something very special.
Frozen is now open on Broadway.