NEW YORK—When Elsa (Caissie Levy), the newly crowned Queen of Arendelle, sings “Let It Go” at the close of Act 1 of “Frozen,” the Broadway adaptation of the Disney-animated film, every element of the production comes together in a wonderful montage of sight, sound, and special effects; the audience is totally enveloped in the story. Sadly, such moments are few and far between.
Those involved in the creative process, including book writer Jennifer Lee, who adapted her film script for the stage, as well as director Michael Grandage, were unable to make the story fully come alive in this different medium. The new material added for the stage is not as seamlessly integrated into the plot as it needs to be. And while the youngsters in the audience certainly found it enjoyable (the show’s name recognition alone and massive marketing push make it critic-proof), the result is disappointing.
As children, young Elsa (Brooklyn Nelson) and her sister Anna (Mattea Conforti) were inseparable. However, Elsa was born with the magical ability to create snow from the very air and freeze solid anything she wished to. When Elsa accidentally injures Anna with this power, the King (James Brown III) and Queen (Ann Sanders), in an attempt to keep Elsa’s abilities secret, close the castle to visitors and limit their children’s contact with the outside world.
In the wake of the accident, Elsa’s own fears cause her to suppress every emotion she feels to keep her magic in check. Her withdrawal drastically changes her relationship with Anna, whose own recollection of the accident has been removed from her memory. Anna is left wondering why her sister has suddenly become so distant.
It’s not until Elsa turns 18 (now played by Caissie Levy) and is to be crowned queen, their parents having been lost at sea years earlier, that the castle is opened to visitors who arrive to witness the coronation.
While Elsa struggles to control her powers, Anna (played as an adult by Patti Murin) has a wonderful time, finally getting to meet people other than the castle staff. She becomes particularly enamored with Prince Hans (John Riddle) of the Southern Isles, and the relationship between the two quickly becomes rather serious.
When Anna openly defies her sister, both by seeing the prince and by refusing to go back to a life behind locked doors, Elsa’s angry response causes massive chunks of ice to appear, with the warm weather changing to a harsh winter. As Elsa flees in horror, Anna follows, determined to make things right between them and to get Elsa to bring back summer.
While trying to find her sister, Anna encounters Kristoff (Jelani Alladin), a one-time ice seller; his reindeer Sven (Andrew Pirozzi); and Olaf (Greg Hildreth), a talking snowman created from a childhood memory. All help Anna in her quest.
“Frozen” is basically a tale of growing up, which stresses the importance of accepting one’s own differences. Early on, young Elsa is told by a shaman (Timothy Hughes) that in her future “fear will be her enemy.” She does not realize until much later that the fear he mentioned is her own.
Hand in hand with this realization is the understanding of what love truly means. Anna and Elsa each take their own journey to reach the same conclusion. The final realization and show’s effect is on a par with the aforementioned “Let It Go.”
Unfortunately, the show’s creators seemed more concerned with hitting certain high points than with telling the story as a whole. Problems start with the opening number, which does nothing to draw one into its world: It could be taking place anywhere.
It doesn’t help that Christopher Oram’s massive sets often feel more suffocating than inviting. Plus, the early scenes feel rushed, as if the show is in a hurry to get to the latter part the story.
Mr. Grandage’s inability to control the pacing of the musical is an ongoing problem. With “Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People,” a number Kristoff sings to Sven, the throwaway, lighthearted song occurs immediately after a major dramatic event and stops the show’s forward motion cold (no pun intended).
Another song with the same effect is “Hygge,” which seems to have been inserted simply to add an unneeded dance number.
On the acting front, Levy is excellent as the tormented Elsa. She and Murin deliver the numbers from the Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez score beautifully. Riddle is fine as the multifaceted Hans.
The real treat of the show is Olaf. Hildreth’s performance makes one forget the character is anything less than real, instead of a rather intricate puppet. Olaf also delivers some of the best lines in the show and even gets to tap dance.
The animated version of “Frozen” might be tailor-made for a Broadway adaptation, but what has ended up on stage lacks much of the film’s original charm.
Also in the cast are Audrey Bennett, Olivia Phillip, Robert Creighton, Adam Jepsen, Kevin Del Aguila, Tracee Beazer, Wendi Bergamini, Ashley Blanchet, Claire Camp, Lauren Nicole Chapman, Jeremy Davis, Kali Grinder, Zach Hess, Donald Jones Jr., Nina Lafarga, Ross Lekites, Austin Lesch, Synthia Link, Adam Perry, Noah J. Ricketts, Jacob Smith, and Nicholas Ward.
St. James Theatre
246 W. 44th St.
Tickets: 866-870-2717 or FrozenTheMusical.com
Running Time: 2 hours, 20 minutes (one intermission)
Judd Hollander is a reviewer for Stagebuzz.com and a member of the Drama Desk and the Outer Critics Circle.