I freely admit my love of musicals and theater. So it should come as no surprise that my family took a special end of summer trip to Denver in order to see the Frozen musical before it transfers to Broadway and tickets aren’t available for a year. Having just seen the first public performance, here are my impressions.
Minor spoilers below as it relates to the musical, if that could be a spoiler.
- Let It Go. The song still delivers and the staging is AMAZING. When we first saw the movie we dreamed what it would look like on Broadway. Now we know. Well, pre-Broadway anyway. It is now the third greatest act one closing songs of all time (Defying Gravity and One Day More still take the top spots). It’s hard not to hear Idina singing her version, and it’s hard to filter out half of the kids in the audience singing along, but Caissie Levy KILLS the song in person and it’s worth the full ticket price by itself. The rest is bonus.
- Sven. Steals every scene he’s in. EVERY. SCENE. Which is amazing since Sven is played more like a real reindeer compared to the movie. Andrew Pirozzi captures the magic that made Broadway’s Lion King so captivating.
- The Hidden Folk. Replacements for the Trolls. They look like wild humans with tails and a penchant for making their men go shirtless even in winter. I guess the creators didn’t want stone troll costumes, although I’m sure they could have pulled it off if they wanted since the characters aren’t that different. But they were used in the right places as a group. Less so for the leader (more on that later).
- Anna and Elsa, young and adult. All four performers are fantastic.
- Hygge. The best of the new songs opens the second act and features a nude kick line. Yes, a nude kick line. It’s a great lead-in to an otherwise slow second act with only one familiar song from the movie.
- The effects. Besides Let It Go, there are some amazing practical and projector-based effects. Including one near the end that earned its own well-deserved round of applause. I have a feeling the Broadway production will have even more in their permanent home.
The needs improvement:
- Olaf. This killed me because Olaf is a brilliant character and how he’s depicted on stage is so much fun. But Josh Gad’s shadow looms large and the musical never finds its way out from under it despite trying. All the characters struggle with not straying too far from the beloved source material while still being fresh, all succeeded except Olaf. Hopefully this improves as the show goes on.
- The staging of most of the songs from the movie. On the one hand, you get a win just by having the great songs to sing. But this is a musical–you can do more than just sing them. Let It Go has some great effects. Fixer Upper is a ton of fun as well. But the rest are a bit blah. The end of Love is an Open Door has some fun choreography for Anna and Hans, but for a fun song taking place in a whole giant CASTLE, I think they could do more than just have two people sing on an empty stage. Hard to tell how much of this is planned omissions or just not completed scenes prior to Broadway transfer. I hope it’s the latter.
- Some tech glitches. To be expected. That’s why you try a show out even when you know it’ll open on Broadway. We had about a 5 minute hold early in the first act when some set elements didn’t come on stage and the computers had to be rebooted. The two little girls did a great job trying to perform without them, but they stopped the show after a bit because those pieces were vital to the next song. A few other pieces have timing issues and the dry ice was either too thick or too thin at times. All things they’ll fix as time goes on.
- The second act. It’s slow. And it’s mostly new songs which aren’t as good as the movie tunes. Anna and Elsa each get an additional anthem (True Love and Monster, respectively), but they’re slow ballads and there are going to be a ton of kids in just about every show. The one attempt to lighten the act, When Everything Falls to Pieces, is a funny song but it’s early on and still leaves the bulk of the act to go without much break. Just have Anna sing Let It Go to Elsa as a way to make her let go of her fear and problem solved!
- Missing story elements. This was pretty bad. Granted, very few people haven’t seen the movie. But if by some chance you hadn’t seen the film and you watched just the musical some things would seem… odd. For example, Anna and Elsa’s parents tell the girls they’re heading out and then they are lifted by the cast as some kind of mournful funeral procession. Judging just by the musical you’d think the parents planned to die rather than dying during a journey per the movie. Likewise, near the end of the show when Olaf frees Anna from her locked room and says he sees Kristoff riding back to the castle… that’s the first we’ve heard of it. We didn’t get the moment where Kristoff decides to come back. It’s a total mystery in the musical why he does. Those omissions are weird. They tried to fill some gaps with one of the Hidden Folk serving as a sort of narrator. But that shouldn’t be needed in a production like this. Show, don’t tell.
- Weak villains. The movie villains were always a bit weak. Hans’ revelation as a backstabber comes from nowhere in the movie and it’s even more jarring in the musical. Meanwhile, the Duke of Weselton still plans to kill Elsa as in the movie, but then he totally disappears after Elsa is detained. There’s no come-uppance for him at all. And we’re still not sure why Hans would try to stop Weselton in the first place. Both of these could be addressed if the team wanted to, and they should.
Overall I give the production a 7 out of 10 colds that never bothered me anyway. And if they can strengthen some of the weak/bad points this could easily get to a 9. And it’s still worth it for Let It Go anyway, so if you were on the fence about getting tickets then go buy them while you still can.
Best comment I heard from a parent in the lobby: a dad telling his Elsa-costumed daughter “Stay close to me, I don’t know if I can find you among all these Elsas if we get separated.”