Love it or loath it, you cannot deny Disney’s 2013 animated musical Frozen is one of the biggest pop culture phenomenons of our time. With box office figures, soundtrack sales, and merchandise revenue not seen since the Disney Renaissance of the early 1990s, Frozen was the cultural sensation the House of Mouse had been chasing for the better part of two decades. A sequel was all but assured (even though it took six years to arrive), as was a big-budget Broadway musical adaptation.
From Beauty and the Beast to The Lion King, Aladdin to The Little Mermaid, Disney Theatrical Productions has brought Disney’s animated classics to the stage for over 25 years now. Once Frozen hit that magical billion-dollar box office figure, waltzed away with two Academy Awards, and delivered an ear-worm of an anthem with “Let It Go,” it was all but preordained Elsa and co. would be heading to Broadway.
After opening in March 2018 at the St. James Theatre, Frozen – The Musical ran for over 800 shows before the COVID-19 shutdown in March brought the curtain down for good, with Disney making the decision not to reopen the show when Broadway returns in 2021. As the second major musical to mark the long-awaited return of live theatre to Australian audiences, Sydney’s Capitol Theatre now inadvertently holds the honour of being the only location in the world you can see Frozen – The Musical.
Adapted for the stage by Oscar-winning Frozen writer/co-director Jennifer Lee and composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, Frozen – The Musical follows a story familiar to anyone who wasn’t living under a rock back in 2013. In the fictional Nordic kingdom of Arendelle, two young princesses, Elsa (Deeana Cheong Foo at this performance) and Anna (Chloe Delle-Vedove at this performance) are playfully “building a snowman” when Elsa’s magical ability with ice and snow almost accidentally kills her beloved sister.
Terrified of what the world would make of Elsa’s uncontrollable powers, her parents, King Agnarr (Joti Gore) and Queen Iduna (Tanika Anderson), lock the gates of their castle and attempt to teach Elsa to conceal her abilities, all while keeping the two sisters apart to avoid any further accidents. When it comes time for young-adult Elsa (Jemma Rix) to assume the throne, she throws open the castle doors for a Coronation Day celebration that brings guests from all over the lands, including the nefarious Duke of Weselton (Aljin Abella) and the dashing Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (Thomas McGuane).
When a giddy Anna (Courtney Monsma) instantly falls head-over-heels in love with Hans, she asks her sister’s permission to marry her new beau, causing a frustrated Elsa to unexpectedly unleash the full force of her ice powers and plunge Arendelle into an eternal winter. After Elsa flees the kingdom, Anna joins forces with ice-harvester Kristoff (Sean Sinclair) and his trusty reindeer Sven (Jonathan MacMillan) to locate Elsa and reverse the snowy spell, with sweetly naive snowman Olaf (Matt Lee) joining the quest along the way.
After months of theatres around the world sitting dark, we Australians have to consider ourselves incredibly lucky to live in a country where live theatre is already making a roaring comeback. While Broadway has cancelled all performances until the end of May 2021 and the re-opening of the West End continues to be pushed back, Sydney theatres are welcoming audiences back, albeit under strict health guidelines (mandatory masks, timed seating and exiting, QR-code check-ins). And what better way to return to the theatre than with an extravagant Broadway show.
Something as big, lavish, and family-friendly as Frozen – The Musical feels entirely fitting to kickstart the local theatre industry. The show will undoubtedly be a huge hit during the school holiday period, especially with parents of children who’ve spent much of this year cooped up indoors. They’ll be enchanted by the much-loved songs from the film, the familiar characters, and the elaborate costume and set designs, plus a whole bag of special effects to stage the magical elements of Lee’s book.
In addition to the seven original songs from the animated colossus, the Lopezes have written 12 new tracks specifically for this musical adaptation. These original numbers can’t quite meet the heights of the soaring “Let It Go” or the adorability of the precocious “Love Is an Open Door” and mostly feel like extra padding to fill the expansive space between the songs you already know. The second-act belter “Monster” lands the most impact, as Elsa contemplates who she truly is and the pain she’s unwittingly inflicting on everyone around her.
Both “Monster” and “Let It Go” gift Rix the chance to dazzle the audience with her stunning soprano vocals, and she does not disappoint. The latter naturally closes the first act and Rix completely brings the house down with the iconic track. Her vocals are only elevated by a sprinkle of stage magic with a “how the hell did they do that?” costume change midway through the number that resulted in thunderous applause.
After her previous turn as Elphaba in the Australian production of Wicked (a role originated on Broadway by Idina Menzel, aka the voice of Elsa) and a recent gig as the alternate Eva Perón in Opera Australia’s Evita, Rix is no stranger to a role requiring a diva of the stage. Much like Elphaba, Rix brings stoic gravitas and quiet dignity to Elsa, making the stalwart of the Australian musical theatre industry the perfect casting choice for such a role.
But while Rix may get the show-stopping numbers, Frozen – The Musical ultimately belongs to Monsma, who absolutely shines as the endlessly lovable Anna. With a whimsical attitude and effervescent energy, Monsma is a genuine delight. Her vocals are heavenly and her comic timing is flawless, particularly with the book’s occasional cheeky, subtle innuendo that will completely be missed by younger audiences. Monsma’s big, beaming smile lights up the stage in practically every scene and she effortlessly captures Anna’s unbridled positivity that’s as infectious as it was in the animated film. You can tell Monsma is having the time of her life in this role, and her joy flows throughout every moment.
McGuane is necessarily slick as the suspiciously perfect prince, while Sinclair exudes the rough-around-the-edges charm that made Kristoff such an unlikely new Disney hero. Sinclair’s performance has a tendency to occasionally fall into melodramatic pantomime, but his singing and dancing are both entirely flawless. To bring Olaf to life, Lee is tasked with the unenviable task of manning a surprisingly expressive rod puppet while acting, singing, and dancing, acting. Unsurprisingly, he doesn’t miss a beat and Lee steals focus at every turn, especially during Olaf’s big number, “In Summer,” which has been updated to include a playful reference to Frozen II.
For those like myself who have seen the Broadway production, it’s instantly inescapable the Capitol Theatre stage is somewhat smaller than that at the St. James Theatre. This has caused the set design to be slightly downsized and certain production elements to be adjusted, especially a large-scale ice bridge for Anna and Kristoff to scale during “What Do You Know About Love?,” which is now more of a small ramp. Local audiences obviously won’t notice a thing, particularly when we’re given our first look at Elsa’s spectacular crystal-drenched frozen palace, which elicited audible gasps from my audience.
After the year we’ve all had, a trip to the magical land of Arendelle is the blissful escapism we could all use right now. Sure, Frozen – The Musical doesn’t exactly re-invent the story and the music that’s oversaturated the world since the animated film dominated pop culture in 2013. But it reminds us of the joy of musical theatre we’ve been missing for months now. Overflowing with endless warmth, dazzling production values, and a heart as big as a glacier, Frozen – The Musical is worth melting for.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Frozen is running at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre until 2nd May. For more information and to purchase tickets, head HERE.
Header Image: Lisa Tomasetti