There’s a moment, near the end of the first act of Frozen, that’s as magical as anything I’ve seen on stage. Audience members gasped aloud, me included. Heidi, my seven-year-old daughter, turned to me and asked, “How did they do that?” I shrugged my shoulders. “I don’t know.”
Frozen (onstage through July 23rd via Broadway Grand Rapids) has more than its share of magic, some of it expected (the “frozen fractals” floating in the air), some not (eyes glowing in the darkness). Some of it was charming; some of it—especially as the show came to its climax—was astonishing.
The story will be familiar to many; after all, the film grossed nearly $1.3 billion. Poised midway between fairy tale and myth, Frozen tells the story of Elsa (Caroline Bowman), whose freezing powers make her a danger to her kingdom, resulting in her self-imposed exile, and of Anna (Lauren Nicole Chapman), her sister, who will undertake a dangerous journey to bring her home.
With a longer runtime than the film, Frozen finds time to deepen the history of its world. Elsa is descended on her mother’s side from “hidden folk,” blissful human-like creatures who might have emerged from one of the funkier music festivals. As Rebecca Mead points out in The New Yorker, this gives Elsa a mythic quality—one which plays against, sometimes jarringly, the show’s cuteness and humor.
After Elsa leaves, Anna pursues her, meeting along the way Kristoff (Dominic Dorset) and his reindeer, Sven (Collin Baja/Dan Plehal). Soon they’re joined by Olaf (puppeteer Jeremy Davis), an openhearted, perhaps insane snowman. Their journey to Elsa goes by too quickly, which is really the fault of the source material; still, I wish the creators had found time to better dramatize the difficulties of the journey.
By the time the sisters reunite, we’ve heard songs both familiar (“Do You Want to Build a Snowman?”) and new (“What Do You Know About Love?”). Here, as in the movie, “Let It Go” is the star. As performed by Bowman, it’s as powerful as ever: an anthem about stepping out of the shadows and revealing your true face. Behind me, a little girl sang along. How could she not?
The second act opens with “Hygge,” a goofy ode to comfort: a spot by the fireplace, a seat in the sauna. As a set piece, it’s fun, but it’s filler. Soon enough, we know, we’ll come to the climax, in which the bonds of sisterhood prove to be their own form of magic.
As I watched, I tried to watch through my daughter’s eyes. Often, it worked. The set was no longer a set but a world. Elsa was both a beautiful princess and a superhero. Anna was goofy but huge-hearted (“she’s kind of crazy,” Heidi told me afterward). Olaf was fine; it was cute when he started to melt. I liked the reindeer. But the most important thing was the sisters. Only the sisters really mattered.
Broadway Grand Rapids