“Frozen” Shines On at The Broward Center (review)

The cast of Frozen the Musical at the Broward Center

“If this is your first Broadway show, welcome!” an overhead voice exclaims over the house microphone and immediately I’m transported back to my childhood when I saw my first musical— Beauty and the Beast at the Lunt-Fontanne in a Ratatouille-esque moment. Disney Theatrical Productions hold a very dear place in my heart not only for my childhood associations but for their ability to present transformative stories with an extremely polished veneer to new audiences. Frozen is one of Disney’s biggest stories of the last decade, with the stage musical fast tracked into production as the film was being developed. With a massive franchise that spans a sequel, several stage shows across the Disney parks, and a litany of merchandise, the film’s ultimate challenge was to prepare the story for Broadway. From their massive shows on the Great White Way like Lion King and Aladdin still running to their shows like Little Mermaid and Tarzan that have closed but found second lives through national tours and licensing school productions, Frozen falls into the latter, making its trek around North America this year. The icy musical makes its way to the Broward Center on its first national tour for a limited run from March 9-20th, but what can you expect from the show?

In adapting the show to the stage, book writer Jennifer Lee, who also wrote both Frozen and it’s sequel film was tasked with making the movie into a piece directed for a more mature theatergoing audience. The dialogue does feature some verbatim lines from the film, but ultimately is translated to the stage with care to allow the emotional beats to sink in. Where the shift comes in the tone from the movie version is the addition of new songs that allow each character’s motivations at different levels to be understood. Even the feminist undertones feel well-deserved with Caroline Bowman giving a speech about International Women’s Month with the entire cast and crew that identify as women. What makes this a successful adaptation is the fact that it fundamentally understands it is a stage show in the way that musicals like Spongebob and Beetlejuice do. The story of Frozen is introduced with a Greek chorus singing the initial prologue in an opening medley entailing Anna and Elsa’s childhoods. Act 2 begins with Oaken welcoming the crowd back into the world of the show, even saying “Hello, Broward Center!” to the audience.

With a stellar cast of Broadway alumni and debuts, Frozen features Caroline Innerbichler and Caroline Bowman as the central sisters Anna and Elsa. Bowman’s previous credits include “Kinky Boots” as Nicola and in a far more relevant role, Elphaba in “Wicked” initially as an understudy then full-time Broadway Elphaba. From a role originated by Idina Menzel, the actress fits like a pair of blue gloves capturing the depth of the complicated ice queen while delivering a powerhouse vocal performance. As Princess Anna, Innerbichler captures the demure, child-like energy of Kristen Bell’s vocals while performing fairly technical feats like Patti Murin. Mason Reeves brings a charismatic, grounded approach to Kristoff that is more in the camp of Jelani Alladin’s portrayal. The antagonist Hans, played by Austin Colby, who in real life is married to Caroline Bowman, has a charm that makes him such a devastating twist villain (spoiler?). Colby, along with Innerbichler will both be departing the tour on March 16th, with Ryan McCartan and McKenzie Kurtz respectively taking on their roles for certain dates. I will be covering this performance exclusively on my Substack. While the show revolves around these central figures, some standouts include F. Michael Haynie’s impeccable comedic timing as Olaf, Jeremy Morse’s delightfully animated portrayal of the Duke of Weselton, the child actors Olivia Jones and Arwen Mason-Sanders’ absolutely talented performances.

The original score of Frozen comes from Disney’s latest luminaries Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who provide eclectic musical arrangements. With the duo’s previous Broadway credits including “In Transit” and “The Book of Mormon”, the transition from film back to the stage seemed like a natural fit. Featuring music primarily from the original movie, the stage show saw the opportunity to develop more of the motifs from the films and more of the characters’ inner conflict. Performed with such a lush score, the pit orchestra utilized a large company of touring musicians in a rare move for a nationally touring production. While the absolute earworms of the Lopez’s work were infectious, the new songs created for the production save for stellar moments like “Monster” and “Hygge” seem fairly utilitarian in delivering plot lines. “Dangerous to Dream” feels like a track directly pulled from the Stephen Schwartz songbook, making the parallels from this show to “Wicked” a bit more apparent, “What Do You Know About Love” evokes some of the story beats of Shrek the Musical, and “Hans of the Southern Isles” and its reprise don’t offer much in terms of propelling the story forward. “Monster” even begins with Weselton’s army searching for Elsa in a song that is very reminiscent of the “March of the Witch Hunters.” However, the new track “I Can’t Lose You” which was put into the show as a replacement for “First Time in Forever (Reprise)” has the epic quality that shows the sisters need for each other so well, it’s sad to think this segment was added in the show in February 2020 for Ciara Renee, but elating to see it have a new life in the tour. 

As the production travels across the country, the staging of the show takes some minor changes with the set design from the Broadway version. Notably, any blocking that involved the rotating turntable was omitted from this show but unlike “Hamilton” or “Hadestown” did not make or break the emotional impact of the show. Projection mapping and screens create the vast world of Arendelle when combined with both physical sets and precise choreography. The use of automated set pieces with moving parts like the maypole and the land of the hidden folk carried by actors make for absolutely jaw-dropping effects. With high-tech sets by Christopher Oram and Finn Ross with gorgeous lighting designs by Natasha Katz, the show is an absolute feast for the eyes. Oram also utilizes stylized period costumes that make more direct references to the Eastern European cultures the show’s story pulls from. The puppet design of Olaf and Sven have the signature kinetic movement of Michael Curry, who created some of the most lively yet creative puppets for Disney’s flagship musical, “The Lion King.” Even the costumes tackle the major magical moments in the movie like Elsa’s transformation to Anna’s frozen heart through stunning quick changes.

Whether this is your first theater show or your latest show for the first time in forever, Frozen on Broadway is bound to be an entertaining spectacle to warm even the coldest of hearts. With breathtaking performances, timeless songs, and a jaw-dropping set this is a show for audiences of all ages. Frozen is running from now until May 20th at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

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