Frozen at the Saenger Theatre
I was a frozen virgin, um, I was a Frozen virgin until this Disney musical’s national touring company played at the Saenger Theatre recently. Sure, I had seen a few seconds from the movie’s Let It Go video but that was it. Now that I’ve experienced it, I have a few questions:
Why is Elsa dangerous?
What did the satyr-looking guy do to her sister Anna?
What happens to their parents?
How does Anna find all these cute guys to fall in love with her since she’s more of the second banana type?
Why do the people (creatures? group?) who can help Anna and Elsa (a “colony of hidden folk”, according to Wikipedia) look like they’ve jetted in from a South Seas island? Aren’t they cold?
How did Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez manage to create a score with a group of songs so interchangeable that, for the most part, they could have come from any musical, Disney or otherwise?
That said, ten days after seeing the show, how is it I can barely remember any of the songs from it, other than the Oscar-winner Let It Go, so anodyne is the music?
And how did Jennifer Lee manage to create a book that, even after seeing the show and reading the Wiki description of it, I’d still be hard-pressed to explain certain of its plot points?
Frozen is a strange creature. Essentially a dark story of love and redemption, Disney protocols insist that comedy gets sprinkled throughout to leaven the darkness. Hence we get a talking snowman and a weaselly Duke (of Weselton; subtle, eh?), among other cartoonish characters, that, unfortunately, provide very few actual laughs.
Granted, the second act opener, Hygge (“a Danish and Norwegian word for a mood of coziness and comfortable conviviality with feelings of wellness and contentment”; the song demonstrates what does or doesn’t qualify as hygge) is cute, but it’s sung by a character, Oaken, who then disappears from the plot. And whereas the chorus folks that emerge from the sauna beating themselves with birch leaves would, in a Warner Brothers cartoon, come off as surreally zany, in Disney-land it struck me as just odd without a full comic payoff.
Having said all that, I have to admit, that I didn’t mind sitting through Frozen. Michael Grandage’s direction keeps it tobogganing along fairly quickly and Lee’s book, if not emotionally involving, does have you wanting to know “What happens next?”
Visually, the production offers sumptuous treats for the eyes. Christopher Oram furnishes hulking, spectacular sets and fairy tale gorgeous costumes. Natasha Katz’s lighting dazzles and Jeremy Chernick conjures up impressive special effects.
I don’t envy Caroline Bowman who plays the neurotic Elsa–this icy queen doesn’t look like a fun role to perform eight times a week. Still, she acts it with aplomb and sings with precise gusto, sending the high notes of Let It Go up to where snowflakes come from.
As Elsa’s lovable sister Anna, Caroline Innerbichler radiated a natural sweetness and pluck for an appealing performance. Astute at physical comedy, she reminded me of a young Carol Burnett.
Mason Reeves and F. Michael Haynie did well as, respectively, Kristoff the spunky “ice harvester” (thank you Wiki; I thought he was a reindeer herder or something like that) and the voice/puppeteer for Olaf, the aforementioned snowman. Swoon-worthy Austin Colby makes Anna’s instantaneous infatuation with his Prince Hans utterly understandable.
While I don’t mind having seen Frozen, I wish I could have been more enthusiastic about it like its animated-movie-to-stage cousin The Lion King, which delivers a striking, unique mise en scène as well as characters you truly care about.
With Frozen, the most memorable moment comes at the end of Act One during Elsa’s Let It Go. As a young friend of mine and budding theater critic put it as he summed up the entire show, “That costume change! AMAZING!!”
[Up next at the Saenger is, yes, another animated-movie-to-stage-musical, Anastasia which adapts the legend of Grand Duchess Anastasia of Russia, who might have escaped the execution of her family, the Romanovs. Years later, in1920s Paris, an amnesiac orphan named Anya hopes to find some trace of her family and enlists the aid of a dashing con man and a lovable ex-aristocrat who intend to take advantage of her likeness to the Grand Duchess. With a book by Terrence McNally, and music & lyrics by Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty, the score features the Oscar-nominated song “Journey to the Past”. Anastasia will play in New Orleans April 5-10. For tickets and further information, go to https://www.saengernola.com/shows/anastasia]