“Frozen The Broadway Musical” At St. James Theatre, Sunday Matinee, February 25th, 2018, Reviewed
Disney haven’t given us a great Broadway Musical since its first, “The Lion King” -which I also caught in previews back in October 1997, and like the rest of the world, was mesmerized by Julie Taymor’s groundbreaking staging and pan-African vision, today you can watch “Black Panther” and still see “The Lion King”. Disney never got it right again, from “Aida” to “The Little Mermaid” and “Tarzan” to a bafflingly miss on “Mary Poppins,” the failures have been endless. But yesterday afternoon, the media bigwigs took no risks and “Frozen The Broadway Musical” was a failsafe. The 2013 “Frozen” -a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen,” which itself owes a debt to Greek Mythology’s King Midas, is the highest grossing animated movie of all times.
So… if “Frozen” on Broadway doesn’t give “Wicked” a run for its money, something is seriously wrong with Disney. But there’s not a chance in hell, this show is a careful and clever state of the art recasting of “Frozen” with at least one great switch, casting a person of color (Jelani Alladin) as Kristoff makes a forceful case for miscegenation. Much more than “Black Panther” isolation versus armed conflict, or even “The Lion King” and its circle of life ethnic oligarchy, “Frozen” makes its case for racial integration (no fear of a black planet here) through example, to impressionable tween and teen girls who will instinctively get it. If you want to impress something on young girls, girl power and friendship and racial harmony ain’t bad at all to be starting with.
If you don’t know “Frozen,” you don’t have a daughter. The story of Princess Elsa of Arendelle who has the magical gift-curse of changing everything to snow ice, freezing things, and who has trouble controlling it, goes into seclusion after nearly killing her younger sister Anna. After their parents die, Elsa ascends to the throne until in a rage over Anna’s wish to marry a Prince accidentally turns her kingdom to perpetual winter and escapes to the mountain. Anna follows her with ice harvester Kristoff and the snowman creation of Elsa and Anna’s childhood, Olaf.
The kids will love it, and after the show I heard nary a discouraging word. But adults might have their doubts. The stage is beautiful and filled with white and occasionally you are thinking “how did they do that?” But if the Julie Taymor version of “Spider-Man: Turn Out The Light” is the gold standard for special effects on stage, and “Harry Potter And The Cursed Child” makes everything on Broadway dated even before it starts previews, “Frozen” misses out on the wow factor. The musical, which claims to be 150 minutes, but it is actually 120 minutes of actual theatre, starting late and with a longer than 15 minutes intermission, it still drags in the second act when the “trolls” (who look similar to The Lion King’s Afrikaner puppeteers) fail to improve the racial quotient by sucking. With the exception of an icy Queen Elsa portrayed with confused undertows of anger by Caissey Levy, the entire enselble are wooden and cartoonish – Olaf literally a puppet on a string. Patti Murin is stuck with the thankless task of portraying the all too plucky Anna, not only is playing plucky Princesses a bore but stepping into Kristin Bell’s animated glass slippers is a nightmare project.
As for the music, the score by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez is a dismal piece of upchuck. All these Broadway songs remind me of Christian Contemporary emotion manipulative constructions where a song should be. It isn’t nostalgia to compare “Frozen” to another musical with miscegenation, “Show Boat”. But what in “Frozen” can stand up to “Ol’ Man River” or “Can’t Help Loving That Man Of Men”? Well, what do you think… ? I know, I know, “Let It Go”. “Let It Go” is awful and that notwithstanding there are reasons for its success with tweens and teens girls. Young girls have tremendous pressure growing up, to this day they have entire social structures built to repress them culturally, emotionally, sexually. Surrounded by male predators and peer pressure, the harshness of competitive schooling and social media, it is like a world with one intention: to discipline them. Intentionally or otherwise, “let it go” is precisely the sort of advise girls need and deserve. Just raising a voice to shake out of societies handcuffs was and is an act of defiance and the #metoo of a younger world of girls. I love the singers but hate the song.