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Disney’s FROZEN

Disney’s FROZEN

The Broadway Musical (National Tour)
Music and Lyrics By Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez
Book By Jennifer Lee. Based on Frozen By by Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee, Shane Morris

Broadway Dallas

Michael Grandage- DIRECTOR
Peter Hylenski- SOUND DESIGN
Michael Curry- PUPPET DESIGN
David Brian Brown- HAIR DESIGN
Anne Ford-Coates- MAKEUP DESIGN
Patricia L. Grabb- STAGE MANAGER
Charles Underhill- Associate Production Supervisor

Caroline Bowman- ELSA
Lauren Nicole Chapman- ANNA
F. Michael Haynie- OLAF
Ryan McCartan- HANS
Mason Reeves- KRISTOFF
Jeremy Morse- WESELTON
Collin Baja- SVEN (At Certain Performances)
Evan Strand-SVEN (At Certain Performances)
Natalie Grace Chan- YOUNG ELSA (At Certain Performances)
Victoria Hope Chan- YOUNG ANNA (At Certain Performances)
Aria Kane-YOUNG ANNA (At Certain Performances)
Arwen Monzon-Sanders- YOUNG ELSA (At Certain Performances)
Caelan Creaser-ENSEMBLE
Jeremy Davis-ENSEMBLE
Kristen Smith Davis- SWING
Colby Dezelick- ENSEMBLE
Michael Everett- ENSEMBLE
Berklea Going- ENSEMBLE
Natalie Goodin- ENSEMBLE
Michael Allan Haggerty- ENSEMBLE
Tatyana Lubov- ENSEMBLE
Adrianna Rose Lyons- ENSEMBLE
Robin Masella- ENSEMBLE
Michael Milkanin- OAKEN, ENSEMBLE
Kyle Lamar Mitchell- KING AGNARR, ENSEMBLE
Tony Neidenbach- SWING
Travis Patton- ENSEMBLE
Brian Steven Shaw- SWING
Daniel Switzer- ENSEMBLE
Zach Trimmer- ENSEMBLE
Natalie Wisdom- SWING
Peli Naomi Woods- ENSEMBLE

Reviewed Performance: 7/22/2022

Reviewed by John Garcia, Senior Chief Theater Critic/Editor/Founder, THE COLUMN. Member, AMERICAN THEATRE CRITICS ASSOCIATION for John Garcia's THE COLUMN

As I sat in the St. James Theatre watching the original Broadway production of Disney’s FROZEN, my artistic sponge tried to soak in as much as possible all the dazzle, flash, and ice created before my eyes that were on the stage, while within my cranium, my personal mental scribe Agnes Gooch was rapidly scribbling my dictation when I reviewed the original cast bringing to life the latest creation coming from the Disney factory of taking their blockbuster animated hit films and metamorphosing them into Broadway stage musicals.

Their track record of success runs the gamut both in the box office and critical reception: BEAUTY AND THE BEAST was a box office smash but was met with harsh critical reception from the Gotham critics; THE LION KING still is their crowning achievement, Tony winner for Best Musical, earned pages of ink singing their praises from the critics, and it’s still running on Broadway. ALADDIN opened to glowing reviews, became a box office smash hit, and also still running on Broadway.

MARY POPPINS received mixed reviews and did decent box office business, while NEWSIES raked in the coins at the box office! Finally, come the two that struggled the most. THE LITTLE MERMAID struggled to find its way artistically on stage, never quite landing its fins on the stage boards. The reviews were rough and the box office was okay but compared to past Disney musicals, it ranked the lowest, that is until a man in a loin cloth swung in on a vine and fell on stage with a thud. That is of course TARZAN. The musical simply could not find artistry in its book and music, and the show was met with savage reviews and lackluster box office. It was Disney’s biggest-and-so-far-only major flop in its “animated film to musical” catalog.

FROZEN had its pre-Broadway tryout in Denver, Colorado at the Buell Theatre in 2017. It then transferred to the St James Theatre in New York to have its Broadway opening in March 2018. In several published reports and articles, during its tryout and Broadway rehearsals/previews, there were constant battles between the artistic production team and the Disney “powers to be” regarding the artistry, vision, focus, and subtext of its book, music, and characters. There were very heated discussions regarding several characters, to the point of even cutting them out of the show because the powers to be wanted to get to the next big “movie song” and cut away dialogue and character development for the sake of time. It was a constant battle throughout the rehearsal process.

FROZEN would rack up 825 performances before having to close (along with every other show on Broadway) on March 11, 2020, due to COVID. But in a shocking statement, in May of that same year, Disney announced they would NOT reopen FROZEN on Broadway. They came to this decision with these comments in their statement,” The production cost about $35 million to mount, attracted an attendance of over 1.3 million, and grossed over $150 million, often grossing 80% to 90% of box office potential. It did not perform as well, however, as in Disney's The Lion King or Aladdin. Therefore, Disney chose to close Frozen, judging that after the pandemic running three of their shows on Broadway simultaneously "would become untenable". FROZEN did receive three Tony Award nominations in 2018, Best Book, Best Original Score, and Best Musical. Nominated for the big one along with them were THE BAND VISIT, MEAN GIRLS, and SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS. It would be THE BAND VISIT taking home the spinning medallion.

Going back to that evening at St. James of Elsa and Anna and their journey of sisterhood, as some musical numbers unfolded on stage, I thought, “This is going to be tough to tour.” That was 2018. Forward to 2022 at the Music Hall where Broadway Dallas has brought the citizens of Arendelle to bring to life this Disney monster hit film live on stage. You are wondering, “SO? Was it tough to tour?” Let’s see!

It is well documented that even before the FROZEN company moved into the St. James Theatre, they were already hard at work tearing apart the upstage and other sections of the theater to fit the complicated machinery, computerized scenery, etc. to create as much wonder and awe with ice and magic. Christopher Oram’s scenic design was spectacular, to say the least. He beautifully recreated the castle to mirror the animated film, from the girl’s bedroom to the coronation hall. When we magically arrive at Pabbie’s tropical kingdom, it is lush and green with glowing gems. When we meet Oaken, who owns a Trading Post and Sauna, there is a colorful store stocked with a dizzying array of sundries, and on the opposite of the stage is his Sauna that can fit twenty patrons! These all remain intact for the tour. What has changed is Elsa’s world. When Anna and Kristoff slush thru snow and ice to get to Elsa’s Ice Castle, they come to a bridge slathered in ice. On Broadway, it was a massive bridge that was quite high above the ground and that took up the entire stage. For the tour, it has been cut in half and much lower to the ground, so it’s a mini bridge. Another change is for “Let It Go”. During this internationally well-known song being performed, Elsa lets her magic freak flag fly finally with wild abandon. She’s free! On Broadway, I recall shards of Ice cycles popping up. Also, the gorgeous crystals dripping were in a different design, finally, the staircase was actually displayed on the video screen, so no real staircase was there. For the national tour, there are no shards of ice cycles, the crystals dripping is arranged differently, and this time there is a mini staircase, which I could see from my seat was glittered and bejeweled marvelously! Another design change was when Elsa’s castle is attacked. At the St. James when the soldiers broke in, ice cycles of various sizes popped up from underneath the floor or came in from the legs of the stage in a frightening attack mode! For the tour, there are mini units that have ice cycles on computerized trollies that move in. The ice cycles are covered in iridescent glowing fabrics and dusted with glitter, giving them an ethereal effect under the lighting.

Oram also designed the exquisite array of costumes that parage on the stage all evening. From my seat, I was able to admire and notice the craftsmanship of the patterns and fabric choices Oram wisely chose for his creations. The ballroom ensemble ladies were all in breathtaking ball gowns of satin in an array of sherbet colors, while the men were either in elegant men’s formal period evening wear, or Military evening wear, down to their gold glitter epaulets and an array of medals on their chests. Kristoff’s costume had a winter color palette of blues, with fabrics of heavy cottons and wools. Olaf (the human character) was dressed in winter whites. But the costume that will make you gasp is Elsa’s Ice queen transformation gown. Up close it is even more gorgeous than what I remember in New York. The beading on this gown is unbelievable, layers of crystals, sequins, and rhinestones, but all in these swirling wonderful designs. It is breathtaking, to say the least.

Oram’s costumes are made complete thanks to David Brian Brown’s array of stunning wig designs for not only the women but the men as well! The final touch is Ann Ford-Coates Makeup Design, in particular for the Pabbie and the Hidden Folk.

In assisting Oram’s scenic design come to life you have Peter Hylenski’s smashing sound design. His creation of ice crunching, transforming, or crashing adds so much to several scenes in Act II. Also, his creation of sound for Olaf’s intro is a delightful surprise!

I am one of those who has become tiresome of the use of video projections instead of actual sets. I get it that it saves money and stage space and that it can create fun unique movable images and “scenery”. But actual sets just add so much more to a live musical. But when you combine the two, like FROZEN does, it adds so, so much more to the emotional strength of the piece. Throughout the evening video designer, Finn Ross has playing on the back wall live, moving images of ever-changing weather within Arendelle, or with Elsa’s emotions that affects everyone and everything around her, including the weather. Finn also designed a jaw-dropping video creation for Elsa’s transformation in “Let It Go”, from the legs on either side of the stage, to the back wall, to the proscenium! On Broadway, he had also designed for the entire stage floor to light up with a glorious array of ice confection designs that twirled and exploded during her solo. I will be honest I didn’t see them Thursday night at the Music Hall. Nonetheless, it still is incredibly magical with what the tour has created here! There must be a special mention of Michael Curry’s superb puppet designs of Olaf and Sven. To see them up close is just so fascinating to see what can be done with fabrics, metal, and other materials to create these puppets that touch your heart. I mean you feel so much for Olaf, a huge part of that goes to the actor, but that puppet has a lot to do with it as well. His movements, the creation of his body and eyes. The same goes for Sven, this reindeer has such deep soulful eyes, and the way his body moves, with his ears, it’s just so unbelievable! Kudos to Curry and his imagination!

Leading this first national tour are Caroline Bowman (Elsa) and Lauren Nicole Chapman (Anna), two mega-talented women that are the MAJOR reasons why every parent should purchase a ticket to see FROZEN. And take their daughter(s), no matter at what age they are! It’s not for the flashy special effects, the glorious costumes, sets, lighting, or those memorable Disney songs. But it is for them to see two powerful females lead AND carry a First national tour with incredible ease and finesse. To observe female empowerment in the arts wrapped in a glitzy, glittery snowball. From tiny little tots to girls of all ages, they can see the emotional struggle, strength, and love it takes to be sisters and females when men try to overtake and muffle their voices, self-worth, and power. There is a bold subtext in this Disney musical. No more tales of a girl who cannot be alive or exist without a prince or man rescuing her. Here, in the frosted kingdom and woods, she can survive on her own strength and stand shoulder to shoulder with her sister, and it is the true love of that sister that will keep her heart alive. That is a beautiful lesson to teach any little girl or any woman of any age. And it is all delivered by two sensational talents exploding on stage from Ms. Bowman and Ms. Chapman.

Caroline Bowman has some great experience in having to carry and lead a big, massive musical that has a huge difficult lead with complex music to sing with impossibly high notes with earth-shattering belting ends. On Broadway, she was “Elphaba” in WICKED. Dallas audiences will remember the last time Ms. Bowman appeared on the Music Hall stage, which was in the title role of the national tour of EVITA in April 2014. I went back two more times to see her in that production, she was that spectacular in the show! She has left Eva’s balcony at the Casa Rosada (The Presidential palatial mansion} and is now the queen of Arendelle and a palace made of crystal ice. Bowman’s characterization of Elsa is that of a reserved woman who has taken her father’s requests very seriously. She is determined to keep her sister physically and emotionally away from her and her heart to not wound her again. But Bowman’s beautiful, exquisite face displays her subtext vividly in the first scenes of Act I of how difficult she is finding in keeping this promise. Like in EVITA, what I find so remarkable about her work, is that she unearths deep within the book and lyrics to find hidden subtext to flesh out a truly more rounded character, even when the book may be missing pieces. She throws layers of subtext of the struggling ruling queen, a lost sister trying to chain her emotions in a chest and make difficult decisions that she knows will break her soul. Bowman’s facial expressions and acting craft vividly ebb these complex characterizations within her acting tools, giving Elsa a refreshing new aura and presentation that I have not seen before on stage. As for vocals, well have you heard Bowman sing? I mean this actress has a set of pipes that require no body mic that’s for sure! All her musical numbers are stellar, but her vocal attack of “Let It Go” is indeed the scene-stealing number of the night. She knows it’s the song EVERYONE is waiting for! Trust me, if John Travolta heard her sing this song, he would NOT be calling her "Adele Dazeem." No offense to the OG goddess herself, Idina Menzel. I could see Bowman’s rib cage and breath control method in order to let go of those mighty belting notes like a gushing tornado vocal to the back of the house! Her facial expressions were priceless because you could see her let loose as Elsa. Finally, letting all that pressure and demand from everyone off her back, she throws that hairpin, and lets her blonde side ponytail down (with crystal rhinestones intertwined in the hair), her face lights up with pure glee! It is a musical number that you just won’t forget.

As “Anna”, Lauren Nicole Chapman is the yin to Bowman’s yang. Chapman is the heart and comedy of this FROZEN production. This powerhouse of talent is a master of comedic timing, delivery, comedic pause, and comedic facial expression. I come from the school of theory that in comedy- you are born with it, it is NOT taught. You have it or you don’t. I can immediately see who has the gift or who doesn’t. Chapman has been doused, dipped, and covered in it. She is the love child of Bette Midler and Nathan Lane. She had a couple of ad-libs that were hilarious in the first act, they made her characterization even more captivating! Chapman just had that instinct of how to use her face, voice, breath, rhythm, and volume to make her line go from a simple list of words on paper to a roaring sea of laughter coming back at her. THAT is what I mean by being born with it. She had that packed to the rafters Thursday night audience in the palms of her hands. But she also displayed her soft, haunting, and touching romantic shades within her arc when she meets Hans (Ryan McCartan) and later on Kristoff (Jeremy Morse). It did not come off “acking” I.E., musical theater fakeness. It flowed out into the audience as sincere, truthful, and honest. You so cheered for this young princess to find her first love and beau. Her best work was with Bowman, it was just brilliant and heartbreaking. They both give organic raw honesty of two sisters battling emotionally about how to cope and repair their complex relationship and stop it from crumbling like the shards of ice around them. Both actresses never fell into mawkish sentimentality. Chapman’s vocals were superlative. Every single musical number she had were vocal gems throughout the evening. From her hilarious comedic duet with McCartan (Hans) “Love Is an Open Door", which was matched with outrageous comedic staging! That duet was a MAJOR musical highlight for me! To her painful, haunting duet with Bowman, “I Can’t Lose You” to her magnificent solo, “True Love”, which will bring a tear to your eyes.

F. Michael Haynie as “Olaf” is a major comedic scene stealer in FROZEN, but who is not surprised, since the character was as well in the film. Haynie has to maneuver the puppet that is attached in front of him which is the three-tier snowball friend that our two sisters created as little girls. Your eyes dart back and forth between the puppet and Haynie’s phenomenal work as an actor. His facial expressions create what the puppet cannot achieve. There are only a couple of times that a little of Josh Gad’s vocal inflections do pop into Haynie’s voice. Gad as you know was the voice in the film. But 98.9% is all Haynie! He is hysterical all evening long. His comedic talents are sizzling hot and they hit the mark all night long like cream pies on a clown! His delivery is just so razor sharp and in the zone, there were times the other performers had to hold because the audience was laughing so loud at Haynie’s one-liners. He’s that damn good! Just like my review for the Broadway production, I so wished this character had more music composed for him, you can literally feel the audience begging for him to do another number. It happened when I saw it in New York, and I felt it again Thursday night at the Music Hall. Olaf has one solo, “In Summer”, which is a showstopper that Haynie sells with full gusto and pizzazz!

Ryan McCartan as “Hans” and Mason Reeves as “Kristoff” both portray the men in Anna’s life. McCartan is the thirteenth prince in line from the Kingdom of the Southern Isles, while Kristoff is an Ice harvester who has a pet reindeer named Sven (At Thursday’s performance he was portrayed by Collin Baja). McCartan and Reeves gave standout, hysterical performances matched with very impressive vocals. McCartan was just outstanding as a prince who immediately fell for the red-headed princess Anna. His scene-stealing vocal duet with Chapman was the first number to receive a thunderous reaction from Thursday’s evening audience. His chemistry with Ms. Chapman was perfection. His work in Act II was first-rate, so much so, that there were audible gasps and vocal reactions. If you know the plot, you know why. That’s how good McCartan’s acting craft is! Reeves is adorably charming and a handsome dude selling ice in the middle of Kingdom under…um…well…ice. His chemistry with Sven is just good ole bromance, but with a reindeer. Reeves gives Kristoff a kind of a surfer dude/chill Bro attitude that works! Because once he meets Anna, it all starts to melt away to reveal a man who starts having feelings and responsibilities for this girl. He is terrific on this national tour.

Special recognition must be paid to Collin Baja as Sven (he and fellow dancer/actor Evan Strand trade-off evenings performing in this role). For this heavy, complex puppet to come alive on stage, Baja is inside holding stilts in his hands and walking on tiptoe and also has to work the ears and eyes; the role is so arduous and exhausting, that is why the role has to be double cast to give the other dancer/actor some days of rest. So you will not see his face, but when you see FROZEN, please give a vocal scream, yell, and extra applause to Baja or Strand when he takes his curtain call as Sven!

Four other performances that stood out in this incredibly talented cast include Jeremy Morse as “Wesleton”, the snooty Duke in boot heels (Didn’t think I wouldn’t notice the second he stepped on stage, but I did!); Tyler Jimenez as “Pabbie” and Brit West as “Bulda”, King and Queen of the Hidden Folk. Jimenez looked like he just left a photo shoot for the latest issue of Arendelle’s Muscle Health and Fitness Magazine! Jimenez and West did a thrilling job of leading the full company in a grand, eye-catching, and magical musical number titled, “Fixer Upper”!

Finally, there is Michael Milkanin as “Oaken”, the owner of Wandering Oaken's Trading Post & Sauna. This tall actor was hilarious! Dressed in a great costume, topped off with a poofy wig, he used these accouterments to aid in his characterization to accomplish yet another mirthful, jovial performance within this talented company that can be called a scene stealer! I have to give Mr. Milkanin major props here. His musical number opens Act II, and he had to work with audience members still coming back into the house. It was incredibly difficult for Milkanin to keep the audience’s attention for a good solid five minutes. He welcomed Dallas to his spa and did a great ad-lib joke, which barely a small part of the house got. As an actor, I could clearly see he was desperately trying to get the audience to join in, and THEY just were distracted by audience members coming in back into the house and all the commotion. My heart went out to this poor actor doing EVERYTHING he can to get the audience back on track. Once he did, he was on a pure streak of comedic gold. With a bizarre accent that sounded part Swedish Chef from the Muppets and part Julia Child. His facial expressions under that Richard Simmons hairdo were HILARIOUS! OMG, I was dying! Mikanin’s comedic delivery and timing hit comedic payola every single time! He was priceless!

One final observation: There were A LOT of tiny girls in the audience and lobby Thursday night. One seated right in front of me and another directly across the aisle from me. Both looked about the same age. I don’t know things about kids, but they were the same height. LOL. I watched them at times to see their reactions. One seemed to only pay attention when a familiar song started, then she immediately perked up and focused on the stage. The other little girl kept all her attention on stage, during both acts. She was so moved by Elsa and Anna; I was so taken by her facial expressions and reactions. It gives me great hope for the future of strong women and musical theater.

There were also so many tiny girls dressed like Elsa! There were a couple that had some incredible replicas of her blue gown, I was very impressed. But the one that sincerely touched me was this beautiful African American tiny girl in an exquisite Anna costume. She looked so enchanting. I wanted to go up to her mom and ask if I could take her picture, but I thought, “I’m going to sound like a weirdo!”, thus I did not. So, if that mom is out there-Kudos to you! Your child stole my heart as the Best costume of the night!

Finally, as a fellow actor of color, I must sincerely applaud and give Disney and Disney Theatrical Productions a standing ovation. Non-traditional casting does NOT mean casting actors of color in the ensemble and being done with it. That is NOT progress. Period. Just as on Broadway, they have cast an African American actor to portray “Kristoff”. For young Elsa and young Anna they cast two real sisters who are Asian American (and were smashing in the show), while their parents, King Agnarr and Queen Iduna, the actors were African American and Filipino American. Thes four made a beautiful family, a realistic family that mirrors today’s families. Finally, they cast a Hispanic actor as Pabbie. To see a major first national tour- one geared towards families- cast several big roles with such diversity adds so much to the fabric of the show, especially emotionally. Because there were families and kids of all colors in the audience, so for them to see themselves represented on stage, it does make such an INCREDIBLE and LONG-LASTING impact on their lives. Trust me. When I was a kid and saw Chita Rivera on screen and she was NOT playing a maid- it opened my mind to so many possibilities of what I can do. So to see all these and others within the ensemble, you all touch many with your talents and representation on stage. Thank you so, so much. And thank you, Disney!

So to answer the question- Did this First national tour of FROZEN match the original Broadway production? I can say with full confidence that yes it did. Sure, it had a few minor tweaks here and there, but not so drastic that it lessened the quality whatsoever. It is packed with a cast full of Broadway credits, and the majority of its Broadway technical and design elements are intact.

FROZEN will check off all that you want in an evening in the theater, but if you have a daughter- she will take away a lot more that will stay deep within her heart for years to come!

DISNEY’S FROZEN- The Broadway Musical
Broadway Dallas, Music Hall
Playing through August 7