How things change. I took my daughter, then five, to an early preview of Frozen. As its signature song “Let It Go” ended to thunderous applause, I predicted, accurately, that it would win Oscars for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song, and that it would be a Broadway musical within five years. I also figured I would take Larissa to see it. Wrong – “little kids stuff,” she sniffed, when I invited her.
Everyone’s a critic, even nine-year-olds. But she wasn’t entirely wrong to, umm, “let it go.” Frozen, the musical of the movie, isn’t bad. There’s stage magic a-plenty, decent new tunes shuffled into the playlist with the old favorites, and pleasing performances. Disney’s screen-to-stage machine is the smoothest-running in the business, and Frozen, which retains Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez for songs and co-screenwriter and co-director Jennifer Lee for book, delivers as expected. What it doesn’t do is exceed expectations, like The Lion King, the gold standard in transformation from one medium to another.
Unless you’ve been living in an igloo since 2013, Frozen needs little recapping. Hans Christian Andersen by way of Wicked, it’s the story of two royal sisters, comically naïve Anna (Patti Murin) and the more cautious Elsa (Caissie Levy), whose uncertain command of her repressed power to freeze objects goes haywire at her coronation, plunging her summery kingdom into permafrost. As Elsa conjures an ice palace to chill out in, Anna finds her inner Shackleton and ventures into the snow to make things right, accompanied by her new friends Kristoff (Jelani Alladin), a suddenly unemployed ice man, his reindeer sidekick Sven (Andrew Pirozzi), and the cheerful snowman Olaf (Greg Hildreth), a byproduct of Elsa’s magic.
Not to take anything away from Murin and Levy, Wicked veterans who have the sister act down pat, but The Lion King’s menagerie master, puppet designer Michael Curry, has outdone himself with Olaf and particularly Sven, whose skeptical eye rolls are Tony-worthy. Eye-popping stagecraft is abundant here, with giant crystal curtains adorning Christopher Oram’s palace set, Finn Ross’ icy projections shooting across the stage, and shards of ice popping up when least expected. Elsa’s “Let It Go” costume change is a wonder. She has a new song, “Dangerous to Dream,” that illuminates her hidden depths, and a tune performed on a hazardous bridge by Anna and Kristoff, “What Do You Know About Love?” fills in their relationship, which just sort of crystallizes in the movie.
Otherwise, director Michael Grandage struggles to differentiate the material. (Choreographer Rob Ashford’s Mel Brooks-ish “Hygge,” performed in the stockinged “nude” by the ensemble, is a swing and a miss.) For all the immense labor that has gone into its translation, Frozen is a bit cold.