Do you want a build a blockbuster? One suspects that this is the main question posed by Disney executives every time they attempt a screen-to-stage adaptation of one of their animated classics, even though the results over the past three decades have ranged from the supernal (“The Lion King,” “Beauty and the Beast”) to the infernal (“Tarzan”).
And while I might have originally predicted a lengthy stay on Broadway for “Frozen,” based on its Oscar-winning 2013 feature, the result – now at the St. James Theatre -- turns out to be an icy mess that seems unlikely to warm the hearts of either children or their parents. It’s not just surprisingly short on charm, humor or wonder, but feels less fully alive somehow on stage, even with real human beings instead of cartoon figures.
Book writer Jennifer Lee (also the film’s author) has mostly stuck to her original take on Hans Christian Andersen’s short story “The Snow Queen,” about the good-hearted yet cold-handed Elsa (Caissie Levy), who can’t quite control her ability to turn everything into tundra, including her adoring younger sister Anna (Patti Murin). The two are mostly separated as children by their soon-to-die parents, but they finally achieve a brief rapprochement on the day of Elsa’s coronation. At least, until the new monarch loses her temper, setting off an eternal winter in her home country of Arendelle, while Elsa flees to a life of loneliness in a homemade ice palace in the mountains.
Oddly, Lee – aided by songwriters Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, gives each of the show’s main characters only one dimension to play: Elsa, made believable by the invaluable Levy -- whose supernatural belt is put to fine effect on the anthemic “Let It Go” -- is regal yet resigned, while Anna, played with just a little excess of spunk by Murin, is sweet and naïve. Anna’s would-be-suitors Prince Hans (John Riddle) is virtuous and heroic (until he’s not), while mountain man Kristoff (Jelani Alladin) is sweetly goofy – and neither actor generates much chemistry with Murin. By far the warmest character on stage is the snowman Olaf, and the very funny Greg Hildreth does wonders while having to manipulate a nearly human-sized marionette (one of the many misfires here).
To have the show feel original –and pad the show to nearly 2 ½ hours – the Lopez team has added a number of songs to the film’s original score (which includes the excellent “For the First Time in Forever” and the adorable “Love Is an Open Door”). The results, as one might imagine, are mixed: Elsa’s first-act solo “Dangerous to Dream” does give us some added insight to the character, while a duet for Anna and Kristoff called “What Do You Know About Love?” is instantly forgettable, as is the saccharine “True Love.”
And hours later, I have no idea what to make of “Hygge,” a weirdly comic number that opens Act II. Led by shopkeeper Oaken (a funny Keven Del Aguila), the too-long song includes a kick-line of chorus members in nude body suits, and ultimately seems to have wandered in from another musical entirely.
Still, much of the reason “Frozen” feels so cold has to do with the director Michael Grandage, whose production lacks much focus. Instead, he gamely attempts to navigate the cast around Christopher Oram’s too-gloomy sets (though Elsa’s ice palace does provide oohs and ahs), making sure to throw in a “special effect” every now and then.
One also wishes Grandage had allowed choreographer Rob Ashford more opportunities to heat up the proceedings; if the producers felt they needed to lengthen the running time, adding a couple of more ballroom dances or townspeople celebrations might have been a wiser solution than some of the songs.
What differentiates a great adaptation from even a good one is a slippery slope, to be sure, but it’s sad that all the talented folks involved with “Frozen” seem to have simply fallen down on the job.
By Brian Scott Lipton
Visit the Site
Caissie Levy, Patti Murin, Jelani Alladin, Greg Hildreth, John Riddle, Robert Creighton, Kevin Del Aguila, Timothy Hughes, Andrew Pirozzi, Audrey Bennett, Mattea Conforti, Brooklyn Nelson, Ayla Schwartz, Alyssa Fox, Aisha Jackson
Preview Open/ Preview Close Dates
Preview Opening 2/22/2018
St. James Theatre
246 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036