Queen Elsa has arrived in Chicago to “Let It Go” — and that famous song from the original FROZEN film now serves as the act one finale for Disney’s latest musical theater magic. Elsa (Caroline Bowman, belting within an inch of her life) sings the powerhouse number as an ice castle swirls around her in Christopher Oram’s set with lighting awash in Natasha Katz’s cool-tone color scheme and projections from Finn Ross. While the moment is a delight, the most spectacular moment comes from Elsa’s quick costume change — Oram also designed the costumes, and that’s the real moment of magic here.
FROZEN on the whole is likewise a production that has the ability to sparkle and captivate, though director Michael Grandage’s vision doesn’t quite meet either the opulent razzle dazzle of ALADDIN or the inventive artistry of THE LION KING. While FROZEN’s production design is more conventional than either of those, there’s still much to enjoy here. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s iconic film songs continue to stand out on the stage, though I will say none of the new additions really stand out. Because this husband-wife songwriting team was responsible for the original film, though, all of FROZEN’S musical numbers feel of apiece and the storyline about sisters Elsa and Anna of Arendelle moves along at a quick clip, aided by Jennifer Lee’s book.
While the set and lighting design are awash in the beautiful Northern Lights color scheme of the film — and it’s magical to see it snow on stage — some of the other staging effects are a mixed bag. I think the most truly artistic and creative element of FROZEN is easily Michael Curry’s puppet design. Here, the sweet and silent reindeer Sven (Collin Baja at opening night), companion to the gruff but kind Kristoff, becomes a beautiful and inventive creature. Likewise, the summer-loving and immensely lovable anthropomorphic snowman Olaf is also a puppet in the film character’s image. F. Michael Hayne is endlessly likable in the role, and like in AVENUE Q, you can see him operate the puppet. But my eyes were drawn to Olaf’s own animated face and hilarious movements.
Fans of the original FROZEN film will also delight in seeing how Grandage’s staging and Rob Ashford’s choreography add new life to the original songs, which continue to be the most memorable tunes in the show. The duet “Love Is An Open Door” becomes more than just a vocal feat for the bright and bubbly princess Anna (Caroline Innerbichler, who plays her as an endearing and earnest Energizer Bunny with a real heart of gold) and her new love Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (Austin Colby, who’s charming and hints at the slickness that lies underneath). It also becomes one of the most entertaining dance numbers in the show, as Colby tosses Innerbichler around the stage and the two rapidly switch between a variety of dance styles to convey their excitement at meeting.
It was also wise to add a duet for Anna and Kristoff. “What Do You Know About Love?” is a direct counterpart to “Love Is An Open Door,” and it delightfully contrasts Anna’s first encounter with both characters. Mason Reeves is also a compelling Kristoff, as he finds the balance between tough guy exterior and warm, fuzzy center. While Bowman doesn’t have as much stage time as this duo, she has no trouble leaning into Elsa’s role as the show’s vocal tour de force. She has mastered all the vocal power and grace necessary to ace “Let It Go,” and a new second act number “Monster,” while less interesting, allows Bowman to show off her vocal chops once more.
Less effective in terms of moving the plot forward is the new act two opener “Hygge,” which elevates the minor character of Oaken (MIchael Milkanin, delightfully daffy) to a major one as he introduces Anna and Kristoff to all things warm and cozy in a long song. While I appreciate that the song infuses some adult humor into FROZEN, it’s a good example of a number added to the musical that doesn’t necessarily feel it’s earned its place and could be cut.
At the end of it all, FROZEN is, of course, a story about the love between two sisters. Innerbichler and Bowman communicate that in spades as Anna and Elsa, and their equally loveable castmates succeed in making the movie’s iconic and sweet characters come to life on stage and shine there.
FROZEN is a fun and sparkly production to ring in the holiday season, and this touring cast is first-rate. If all the little Annas and Elsas in the audience on opening night were any indication, it’s also a great show to introduce young theatergoers to musicals. And it’s enjoyable for the young at heart, too!
The FROZEN National Tour plays Broadway In Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theater, 151 West Randolph, through January 22, 2022. Visit BroadwayInChicago.com for tickets.
Photo Credit: Deenvan Meer