Friday, March 30, 2018

189 (2017-2018): Review: FROZEN (seen March 27, 2018)

"A Broadway Blizzard"

Just as the lingering winter temperatures are showing signs of a spring thaw, along comes the new Broadway musical Frozen to remind us of what we’d like to forget. Based on the enormously popular 2013 animated movie of the same name, this addition to the catalogue of spectacular shows based on Disney movies is not my favorite. Let me, however, mention a few of my favorite things about this Michael Grandage-directed, two hour and 20-minute extravaganza.
Patti Murrin, Caissie Levy. Photo: Deen Van Meer.
First would be the many elaborate special effects created by Jeremy Chernick on Christophe Oram’s Norway-like set, whic includes a stage-spanning bridge of ice, huge icicles that rise from the ground and poke out from the wings, the virtual freezing over of the stage and proscenium arch to the accompaniment of realistic crackling (sound by Peter Hylenski), and an ice castle formed from dazzling curtains of lace-like crystals. 
Jelani Alladin, Patti Murrin. Photo: Deen Van Meer.
Oram’s costumes, many of them sumptuous, for Frozen’s 41-member company have the essential storybook feeling (although they do sometimes look like you’ve seen them before), and provide eye-poppingly magical surprises when called upon to do so. And Natasha Katz paints it all with her exquisite lighting, supplemented by the extensive digital projections of Finn Ross. 
John Riddle, Robert Creighton, Jacob Smith.  Photo: Deen Van Meer.
Kids, obviously a large segment of every audience, will love Sven, an appealing, remarkably lifelike, shaggy-haired reindeer, whose hidden animator, ballet dancer Andrew Pirozzi using hand and foot stilts, must require nightly massages to sooth his aching muscles; and Olaf, a wise-cracking, singing, and dancing, three-part snowman puppet, created by Michael Curry (who also made Sven), and operated in full view by the amiable Greg Hildreth, shown as a white-garbed clown. They’ll also thrill to the sensational talents of the children playing Young Anna and Young Elsa (Mattea Conforti and Brooklyn Nelson, when I saw the show). 
Patti Murrin, John Riddle.  Photo: Deen Van Meer.
The score, by the wife and husband team of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who wrote the film’s songs, is generally tuneful but often generic. On hand, of course, are such now familiar numbers as the movie’s Academy-Award winning “Let It Go,” wonderfully sung by Princess Elsa (Caissie Levy); the romantically comic routine, “Love Is an Open Door,” performed by Princess Anna (the show-stealing Patti Murin) and Hans (the amusing John Riddle); Anna and Elsa’s “For the First Time in Forever”; and Olaf’s “In Summer,” a snowman’s charmingly impossible paean to the joys of warm weather.
Caissie Levy.  Photo: Deen Van Meer.
Levy is ideal as the isolated ice princess and Murin outstanding as her estranged, much put-upon, but valiant sister, each ringing a bell of sorts for female empowerment, and each creating a model for all the many Elsas and Annas who will undoubtedly follow in the years to come.
Patti Murrin.  Photo: Deen Van Meer.
Among the 11 new songs added is the clever, adult-oriented, company number, “Hygge,” the Danish word for cozy contentment, led by the bearded Oaken (Kevin Del Aguila), owner of a mountain trading post, using an exaggerated Scandinavian accent. The routine incorporates a chorus line of “naked” sauna users joyfully dancing (to Rob Ashford’s satirical choreography) while coyly covering their privates with branches.
Jelani Alladin, Andrew Pirozzi.  Photo: Deen Van Meer.
Not on my list of favorites is the show’s hokey, heavy-footed, overlong book, by Jennifer Lee, who also wrote (and codirected) the movie script, itself loosely inspired by Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen. It’s the tale of Princess Elsa of Arendelle, whose dangerous (but unexplained) power of being able to turn things to ice or conjure blizzards unleashes familial, romantic, and, eventually, political complications when she inadvertently freezes her entire kingdom. 
Caissie Levy.  Photo: Deen Van Meer.
Ever since nearly killing Anna by accident when they were children, she and her sister have been separated, Elsa having grown up required to keep her powers secret (“Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show”). When that ultimately proves fruitless, she decides to “Let It Go” and be her true self. 
Jelani Alladin and company.  Photo: Deen Van Meer.
Among the other principals are a villainous duke (the underused Robert Creighton of  Cagney, who deserves at least a tap solo) and the ice salesman Kristoff (the talented Jelani Alladin)—Sven is his reindeer—who befriends and falls for Anna. When Anna’s heart is frozen and she’s in danger of dying, the troll-like Pabbie (Timothy Hughes) and Bulda (Olivia Phillip), who appeared earlier on, return to do their EMS mumbo jumbo. 
Caissie Levy, Patti Murrin, and company. Photo: Deen Van Meer.
Of course, this is a story in which true love thaws icy hearts and everyone lives happily ever after. With power, it seems to say, also comes responsibility. Whatever. Even with its darker, adult-oriented psychological hues, and an unexpected character turnaround, too much of Frozen remains icebound.
Company of Frozen.  Photo: Deen Van Meer.
Many adults—grownups unaccompanied by kids reportedly make up 70 per cent of Disney audiences—will love it for stirring the still glowing childhood embers in their hearts; others will value it mainly for the happiness it brings their young companions. Personally, my critical heart requires a good dose of Pabbie and Bulda’s mumbo jumbo.


St. James Theatre
246 W. 44th St., NYC
Open run