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A CurtainUp Review
For Frozen, as with all their Broadway shows, the Disney folks have assembled a top-flight creative team. Michael Grandage, former Artistic Director of London's Donmar Warehouse, is director. Rob Ashford, who's also an award-winning stage director, serves in this production strictly as choreographer.
Ashford and Grandage have transformed a 41-member cast into a smoothly coordinated theatrical organism. With these two pros working hand-in-glove, it's impossible to tell where the choreographer's work begins and the director's leaves off.
Like the animated Frozen, this new musical soars on wings of song composed by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. The movie's tunes, including the Oscar and Grammy winning "Let It Go," have been preserved in the stage production; but the film music is enhanced by new material from the same songwriting team, notably, "What Do You Know About Love," "Monster," and "Dangerous to Dream." The score affords Ashford ample opportunity to create dances that appeal to the eye while engaging audience emotions.
iFrozen concerns two sisters, princesses of an imaginary realm in northern Europe. The elder, Elsa (Caissie Levy), is a junior diva burdened with magical powers beyond her control. Anna (Patti Murin), the younger, is a happy-go-lucky soul with democratic ideals and a Doris Day persona. (In the opening scenes, the child Elsa is played by Mattea Conforti and Anna by Ayla Schwartz.)
When Elsa's magical powers go haywire, endangering Anna's life, the girls' parents decide that the two must be raised apart from each other. As a result, Anna grows up unaware of Elsa's supernatural gifts. The sisters are reunited after the parents die in a shipwreck and, when Elsa accedes to the throne, the sleepy little kingdom of Arendelle comes alive with coronation activities.
But things quickly go wrong: Elsa's magical powers get away from her once again, wreaking havoc in the form of an extreme wintry chill that threatens all life forms in and around Arendelle. Anna pledgers her troth to Hans (John Riddle), a prince with sinister intentions. And any number of characters get lost in a ferocious snow storm.
But enough about the complicated plot. Those details aren't what's most important about Frozen. Peering too closely, in fact, is likely to undercut the visceral aspects that sweep you out of your red-plush seat and into a thoroughly pleasurable whirlwind of theatricality.
In an interview, Grandage has said he sees dimensions of Shakespeare's pastoral comedies in the narrative of Frozen, and that, when invited to direct the stage version, he set out to apply a "Shakespearean sweep" to the material. That may sound a trifle high-falutin'; but Grandage and Ashford have invested what's on stage at the St. James Theatre with an undeniable grandeur.
Frozen is an eye-popping illustration of what contemporary stage technology can achieve. The top-notch design team — Christoper Oram (sets and costumes), Natasha Katz (lighting), Jeremy Chernick (special effects), Michael Curry (puppets), Finn Ross (video), and Peter Hylenski (sound) — have devised mountains, snowstorms, and an Aurora Borealis (among other visual and aural wonders) that give Mother Nature a run for her money. But the physical production never overshadows the performances of an impressive company, headed by the formidable Levy and endearing Murin.
Of special note is Jelani Alladin, making his Broadway debut after a memorable Off-Broadway turn last summer in a less-than-memorable musical, Sweetie, staged by veteran Pat Birch. As Kristoph, Alladin is essential to the resolution of the romantic plot, as well as being part of the musical's comedic vein. With fine singing voice and dancing prowess, Alladin gives a vibrant performance that complements the work of his fellow comedians, Robert Creighton as Weselton, Greg Hildreth as Olaf, and Kevin Del Aguila as Oaken. Alladin manages to shine even when his sidekick Sven (Andre Pirozzi), the dancing reindeer, does everything imaginable to upstage him. Sitting in the Frozen audience, you may be confident, at an intellectual level, which side will prevail in this musical's contest between evil and good. But story-telling isn't strictly an enterprise of the intellect. This visually rich, wonderfully paced, aurally thrilling production keeps us wide-eyed and on tenterhooks for more than two hours, even when we know how things are going to end.
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Book by Jennifer Lee
Music by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Based on the Disney film written by Jennifer Lee.
Directed by Michael Grandage
Choreographed by Rob Ashford
Cast:Caissie Levy (Elsa), Patti Murin (Anna), Jelani Alladin (Kristoff), Audrey Bennett (Young Anna Alternate), Mattea Conforti (Young Anna Alternate),Robert Creighton (Weselton), Kevin Del Aguila (Oaken),Greg Hildreth (Olaf), Timothy Hughes (Pabbie), Adam Jepsen (Sven Alternate), Brooklyn Nelson (Young Elsa Alternate), Andrew Pirozzi (Sven), John Riddle (Hans), Ayla Schwartz (Young Elsa Alternate)
Ensemble: Tracee Beazer, Wendi Bergamini, Ashley Blanchet,James Brown III, Claire Camp,Lauren Nicole Chapman,Jeremy Davis, Kali Grinder,Zach Hess,Donald Jones Jr.,Nina Lafarga,Ross Lekites, Austin Lesch, Synthia Link,Adam Perry, Olivia Phillip, Noah J. Ricketts, Ann Sanders,Jacob Smith, Nicholas Ward
Scenic Design by Christopher Oram
Costume Design by Christopher Oram
Lighting Design by Natasha Katz
Sound Design by Peter Hylenski
Video Design by Finn Ross
Puppet Design by Michael Curry
Hair Design by David Brian Brown
Makeup Design by Anne Ford-Coates
Music Arrangements: Brian Usifer
Music orchestrated by Dave Metzger
David Chase:Additional Dance Arranger
Musical Director: Brian Usifer
Stage Manager: Lisa Dawn Cave
Running Time: 2 1/2 hours, with 1 intermission
Frozen.From 2/22/1; opening 3/22/18
Reviewed by Charles Wright at 3/16 press preview.
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