Released in 2013, Disney's animated feature, Frozen was an instant smash hit, taking more than a billion dollars at the Box Office to become the highest grossing animated film of all time – only to be superseded by the sequel in 2019. As is the current trend, the success of the film franchise quickly translated into a stage adaptation – indeed a live musical version was reportedly in the works even before the original film was released.
The stand out track from the movie (and indeed the stage production) is of course the ubiquitous "Let it go", written in a single day. In development, the song gave a whole new perspective to the character of Elsa, and according to writer Jennifer Lee resulted in a rewrite of the entire story. Performed by Broadway legend Idina Menzel, Let it go went on to achieve massive commercial success, winning an Academy Award for Best Original Song (2014) and a Grammy for Best Song Written for Visual Media (2015), even reaching number five on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
This musical adaptation of Frozen premiered on Broadway in 2018 after an out of town tryout in Denver the previous year, and was promptly nominated for a bunch of Tony and Drama Desk Awards, eventually only winning the DDA for Outstanding Puppet Design (Michael Curry). The Broadway production continued until the pandemic closed all theatres in March 2020.
Sydney was the first city outside of the US to receive the new production, with the show opening at the Capitol in December 2020. The Melbourne season was originally scheduled to open on June 12 of this year, but had to be postponed due to a snap lockdown. Fortunately for us Melbournites, restrictions eased just long enough for us to get to the rescheduled Opening Night on July 14. Sadly, two days later and we're in lockdown again. Not hygge!
The stage version of Frozen employs the same writing team as the film, with book by Lee, and music and lyrics by husband and wife song writing team Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. However the live show amps up the musical quotient, with the addition of a dozen new songs not included in the original film. For the most part, the music is very good, drawing on an eclectic range of styles and genres for inspiration.
Frozen follows the lives of two sisters – Anna and Elsa. Elsa, the elder sister, is next in line to the throne of Arendelle, and from an early age is groomed to take over the kingdom when her parents can no longer do the job. But unbeknownst to those outside her immediate family, Elsa was born with magical powers – at times too powerful for her to control. Anna, the younger, more spirited of the sisters is relatively unbothered by royal duties and enjoys a more independent outlook. When Elsa nearly kills Anna through innocent use of her magic, Elsa and her parents decide the safest thing to do is to separate her from her sister – and indeed the world – until she learns to keep her magic under control. With echoes of that other magical child, Harry Potter, Elsa must repress her powers and deny who she really is – but secrets can only be repressed for so long.
The story is pure Disney, but it does turn the traditional fairy tale ending on it's head. These are strong women, who take their fate in their own hands, ultimately deciding they don't need to hide who they are, and pointedly, don't need rescuing by the male characters.
The performances in this Melbourne production are strong throughout, with the younger actors more than holding their own against their older, more experienced counterparts. In particular, Stella Partridge (on Opening Night) as Young Anna, gives a standout cheeky cameo. She could afford to slow down a little, but she has more than enough charisma to fill the large Her Majesty's stage.
Likewise Courtney Monsma as the adult Anna is excellent, switching effortlessly between the comedy and the more serious scenes, providing the show with much humour and real heart. Jemma Rix as Elsa arguably has the toughest balancing act to perform. As the repressed and largely self-exiled Elsa, she doesn't have the same opportunities as Anna to interact with other characters or to express a full range of emotion, and consequently spends a lot of time on stage lonely or alone. While we, as the audience, understand her predicament, it doesn't always make for the most engaging character. Nevertheless, Rix has the best vocals in the troupe, and her version of Let it go is a definite highlight.
Thomas McGuane is thoroughly believable as the goofy-slash-despicable Hans, with some of the best vocals of the night. Olaf, one of the most memorable characters from the film, plays a pivotal role in the story and Matt Lee does more than justice to the loveable and naïve snowman with his quirky comedic timing.
As we have come to expect from Disney, the design throughout is superb. This is a lavish production, employing a full range of hi and lo tech theatricality to portray the various locales including the majestic Nordic mountains with aurora borealis, a rustic village in the snow, and of course Elsa's magical ice castle.
This is a highly entertaining production with plenty to enjoy for both children and adults. The idea of a city emerging from under a spell that has kept them frozen for way too long sounds pretty good about now. When Melbourne audiences finally get out of lockdown, I've no doubt they will flock to Frozen in droves.
Disney Theatrical Productions presents
music and lyrics Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez | book Jennifer Lee
Director Michael Grandage
Venue: Her Majesty's Theatre, Melbourne VIC
Dates: from 14 July 2021