While its title may match the chill of Melbourne winter, the arrival of Frozen brings welcome warmth and theatrical magic as the first major musical to debut locally since March 2020.
The enormous success of 2013 Disney animated movie musical Frozen practically guaranteed that a stage musical would follow. The blue chip title premiered on Broadway in 2018, its dual female leads making it a seemingly natural successor to perennial megahit Wicked.
Frozen the stage musical is understandably respectful to the movie, with movie script writer Jennifer Lee bolstering her screenplay with deeper psychological interest and movie composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez more than doubling the number of their songs.
As a family musical, Frozen has something of a dour start, with young Elsa accidentally injuring her dear little sister Anna, followed by the regular Disney trope of the death of parents. A healthy injection of charm comes late in act one with the arrival of adorably naive snowman Olaf, a character who provides the relatively few laughs of the show.
The new music does not reach the giddy heights of the golden triumvirate of Disney stage musicals – The Lion King, Mary Poppins and Aladdin – yet the songs are very well integrated and always drive the storytelling. “Do You Want To Build A Snowman?” remains an infectious ear worm, and “Let It Go” is such a recognisable hit that its opening bars received applause on opening night. New song “Monster” gives Elsa a hefty follow up power ballad for act two, with new duet “I Can’t Lose You” (added in February 2020) focusing the stakes on the sisters’ love for each other.
The production itself is a key attraction, crafted on a lavish scale with characteristic Disney flair and imagination. Director Michael Grandage grounds the emotions in only gently heightened realism, the fantasy elements playing out in natural support of the story. Master choreographer Rob Ashford provides creatively stylised dance and movement that neatly enhance full company scenes.
Designer Christopher Oram draws the mythical European kingdom of Arendelle in warm yet muted Mediterranean tones, having fun with uniforms and ball gowns alike. Oram’s scenic design is inseparable from the lighting design of Natasha Katz, bringing Elsa’s ice magic to glittering animated life all over the stage. Michael Curry’s puppet design for snowman Olaf is simply a 3D version of the film character, while his creation of noble reindeer Sven is truly masterful.
Jemma Rix draws from her prolific stage experience to bring compelling presence and elegant poise to Elsa, deftly bringing out the full depth of character as written for the stage. Rix memorably makes “Let It Go” her own, supplementing the requisite belted notes with delectably tender, highly expressive vocals throughout the body of the song. Rix gives a star turn that is all the more endearing in that she remains a natural company player and wonderfully warm scene partner.
Courtney Monsma delights as Anna, bringing out the youthful joy of a sheltered young woman who happily wears her heart on her sleeve. Monsma had quite the act to follow on opening night, with Stella Partridge instantly earning the audience’s affections with her utterly vivacious performance as Young Anna. Monsma neatly segued from Partridge’s energy, singing sweetly and taking the character on a romantic journey to the drama of the icy climax.
Matt Lee makes puppetry look completely effortless, controlling Olaf in full sight and yet maintaining all focus on the cute snowman puppet itself. Lee contributes adorable vocalisation of Olaf and even throws in a nimble soft shoe dance break during terrific charm song “In Summer.”
As ice harvester Kristoff, Sean Sinclair makes the most of the least rounded character, setting off further romantic sparks with Monsma, particularly in the pair’s quirky 1970s-sounding duet “What Do You Know About Love?”.Not seen at all, Jonathan MacMillan still manages to bring personable character to athletic reindeer Sven.
Thomas McGuane proves a dashing leading man as too-good-to-be-true Hans. McGuane and Monsma appear to have as much fun as the audience in daffy love duet “Love Is an Open Door.”
Blake Appelqvist opens act two with striking confidence and charisma to spare, leading the rousing Nordic charm song “Hygge.” Aljin Abella steals scenes yet again as dastardly King
Weaseltown Weselton. Jayme-Lee Hanekom brings palpable warmth to Bulad, matriarch of the hidden folk.
The sterling quality of the ensemble cast is enhanced by company members such as Gretel Scarlett and Todd Jacobsson (to name but two) who are lead performers in their own right.
Primarily targeted as a family outing, Frozen holds up appealingly as a musical treat for adult theatregoers alike.
Man in Chair reviewed Frozen on Broadway.
Photos: Lisa Tomasetti