Can ‘Frozen’ Warm Up Broadway?

Frozen, the new Disney musical that has just opened on Broadway, is a beautiful piece of work— sleek, visually splendid and in many ways ingenious. Bringing to the stage the wildly popular animated film, about a princess who can freeze her constituency with the flick of a finger, at first glance seemed a daunting task. But director Michael Grandage and his design team have managed it with graceful simplicity: scenery turns to ice with a mere adjustment of lighting, some crackling sound effects and a few pop-up shards.  Favorite characters from the film — Sven the reindeer, Olaf the talking snowman — are rendered with amusing low-tech puppetry (with a bow to The Lion King, the show that invented everything). The story is briskly told, in the usual Disney manner; Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez have added several peppy numbers to the film’s score; and the cast is just fine. Though Cassie Levy, as the snow queen Elsa, looks a little too Hillary Clinton in her spangled pantsuit and regally coiffed hairdo, I give her credit for pulling out all the stops in the big, first-act-closing number “Let It Go” without making the adults in the audience gag.

If the show left me a little, well, cold, I think the main reason lies in the story itself — at least, as Jennifer Lee has adapted it from Hans Christian Andersen. Yes, fairy tales are often dark, but Elsa’s childhood punishment for accidentally turning her sister into an icicle — the two don’t get to talk to each other for the next 10 years— seems uncalled for, even disturbing. The dual-track storyline is also frustrating: the most interesting character is Elsa, but we spend most of the time following little-sister Anna (a feisty Patti Murin) on her trek to — well, on the stage it’s a little unclear where, since we don’t get the lovely vistas of the animated film. Nor are the villains up to Disney snuff: either too comic (the pint-sized Weselton) or too late to the party (Prince Hans, the knight in shining armor who breaks bad at the last minute).

In the end, I’m afraid, my main problem is that the central tension of the story— yet another fantasy hero/heroine whose big predicament in life, poor dear, is learning how to cope with superpowers — doesn’t have the emotional resonance of, say, The Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast, despite all the fervent messaging about the power of sisterhood. You go, girls. And you too, Disney — still master creators of stage magic, who have created a show that will please a lot of them. But I’m just lukewarm.

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