There’s a man who saw Frozen the same night I did who deserves a refund.
Not because the musical, which marks the return of Broadway touring productions back to Minneapolis, didn’t live up to expectations. In fact, despite this fall marking eight years since the theatrical release of the first Frozen movie, not only does the enthusiasm for the story seem to be as strong as ever (when I attended, there were dozens of little Elsas in glittery tulle throughout the theater), but I suspect even those who could recount the entire journey of Queen Elsa and Princess Anna from memory will find themselves leaving the Orpheum Theatre with a renewed appreciation for the most popular Disney tale of the modern era.
As for those who’ve never seen the animated movie? You’ll find plenty to love too, and not only because it’s been months since you’ve seen a chorus line strutting their stuff (ostensibly in the nude, no less).
I know this partly because the older couple sitting next to me, who were there without any grandkids in tow, obviously missed the boat on Frozen — at the beginning of Act I when Elsa is discovering her magical abilities to conjure ice and snow and accidentally hurts her sister Anna, the man next to me laughed, thinking it was a joke — but they had a grand old time nonetheless. There was a proximity bias, but I’m pretty certain this gentleman laughed more than anyone else in the theater.
For those similarly new to the story, Frozen follows these two princesses into adulthood where, after the death of their parents, Elsa (played by Caroline Bowman) is crowned queen and Anna (Caroline Innerbichler, a native Minnesotan) is let loose on society after being shut away her entire life to conceal her sister’s potentially dangerous powers. At the coronation gala, Anna loses her cool and falls in love with the first man she meets, Prince Hans (Austin Colby), and Elsa subsequently loses her temper, sets off an eternal winter, and flees into the mountains. To save the kingdom, Anna enlists the help of Kristoff (Mason Reeves), a surly ice monger whose best friend is the reindeer Sven, and eventually Olaf, a snowman Elsa has brought to life.
OK, we’ve got not one but two Disney princesses and a singing snowman, who is referred to at the beginning as having “a big bouncy butt.” That certainly sounds strictly like children’s fare. But I’m a 31-year-old who has been invigorated by this musical from the night I first saw the movie. Why is that? Mainly, it’s thanks to the show’s heart: the music and lyrics from Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (theater people will know Robert for co-creating Avenue Q and The Book of Mormon), and orchestrations by Dave Metzger (Tony Award winner for The Lion King). That means I had twice as much reason to see the stage version; there’s a whole new slate of songs from that team that has been added to the originals from the movie.
Unfortunately, it’s that reworking that also provided the first disappointment of the night. The opening of the movie Frozen, a song called “Frozen Heart,” is akin to the opening of Les Misérables, a disarmingly brutal, booming number sung by a chorus of working men (though here it’s ice harvesters instead of a chain gang) that does a handful of jobs: setting a tone of danger, setting the scene in a make-believe country that evokes Scandinavia, and also secretly laying out Elsa’s budding power (the laborers sing of ice as “stronger than one, stronger than ten, stronger than a hundred men”). In the stage version, this essential groundwork is cut entirely and replaced with a busy opening sequence that strings together a number of songs and exposition, some new, some old, without anything that urges you forward in your seat.
There are flurries of enticement, to be sure. For those wondering how Elsa’s frosty magic is created onstage, it first appears here in the opening — part classic stage wizardry, part proprietary Disney tech, no doubt — and only builds as the story goes on and the cold sets in. If you’re looking for spectacle, you’ll get it.
The moment I first sat forward in my seat, however, was during “For the First Time in Forever” when the princesses are preparing for the coronation ceremony. Bowman sings, “Tell the guards to open up the gates,” unleashing her pipes for the first time, then Innerbichler joins in, followed by the chorus, and it finally arrives, the moment we’ve all been waiting for since March 2020: the gorgeous wave of sound that comes from a full cast belting their hearts out. From then on, I was in the palm of Elsa’s frozen hand.
It was not the hallmarks of a Disney musical that made Frozen a performance I’ll never forget, it was all the hallmarks of great musical theater, period. Yes, there are inside jokes for Frozen diehards (Olaf mentions “Samantha,” which isn’t worth explaining if you don’t already get it), the most popular songs are all here, and the magic brought to life, both through Elsa’s powers and Olaf and Sven’s ingenious puppetry, may be what some audience members shell out for. For me, what I’ll remember are the new songs, like “Hans of the Southern Isles,” an enchanting earworm, performed to great effect by golden-throated Austin Colby; the power of a strategic stage entrance, as showcased in the second act opener “Hygge,” which takes the place of “Frozen Heart” for offering an infusion of Scandinavia, and also features the aforementioned quasi-nude chorus line (don’t worry, it’s all very PG); and the ability for a character to enrapture you with one short song, as Mason Reeves does as Kristoff near the end.
One of the best moments in the show doesn’t involve any magic or puppets or projections, or really much of anything at all, just Innerbichler and Colby singing “Love Is an Open Door.” In the movie, their characters Anna and Hans traipse through a majestic castle; here, they’re left to their own devices on stage, which almost gives the effect of the two most popular kids in high school performing at a talent show (with goofy dance moves to match), though their brilliant voices and undeniable charisma carry it off in the end.
It’s not the best moment in the show. That particular scene finally brings us back to where we started: the refund. During a scene change near the end of Act I when the newly crowned Queen Elsa glides onstage alone and the opening notes of “Let It Go” are played on the piano, a middle-aged gentleman in front of me rose from his seat and headed for what I assume was the restroom. He deserves a refund because the next four minutes of musical theater — Bowman’s sparkling, soaring, pitch-perfect rendition of Frozen’s showstopper — are worth the price of admission alone.
There are plenty of other reasons to see this musical before it heads out of town next week, but I’ll tell you this much: when Bowman belted out the final note of “Let It Go,” a single tear spilled down my face mask.
910 Hennepin Ave.
Minneapolis, MN 55403
Final performance: October 20
Buy tickets here
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