Frozen review – Disney hit arrives on Broadway with mixed results

St James Theatre, New York

A likable transfer for the animated phenomenon will please fans but an extended running time highlights a thin plot

Want to know the real star of Frozen? That would be Sven, the reindeer.

Sven doesn’t speak. He doesn’t sing. If we’re being honest, he could use a haircut. But when he lumbers limberly across the stage, courtesy of the dancer Andrew Pirozzi, he is pure theatre and pure magic. His scenes are some of the few moments when Frozen, adapted from the 2013 Disney hit, the highest-grossing animated movie of all time, seems not just translated to the stage, but transformed by and for it.

Broadway’s Frozen is a good show. With its music, its dance, its flurry of likable leads, and snowball after snowball of son and lumière, some of it newfangled, some of it stretching back to 19th-century melodrama, it offers most of the pleasures that we count on Broadway musicals to provide. But even with the addition of a dozen new songs by the composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, an enhanced book by Jennifer Lee, and the interventions of director Michael Grandage and scenic and costume designer Christopher Oram, it rarely feels like more than the movie and sometimes it feels like less.

The story is more or less the same. Elsa and Anna, princesses of fairytale Arendelle, are bed-bouncing childhood besties until Elsa’s magical superstorm powers separate them. Elsa conceals those powers until her coronation, when an emotional outburst accidentally plunges the kingdom into nonstop blizzard conditions. So plucky Anna (Patti Murin), helped by ice-seller Kristoff (Jelani Alladin) and his shaggy friend Sven, sets off to find Elsa (Caissie Levy) and rescue Arendelle before the kingdom runs out of glugg.

Frozen, like the recent Moana, isn’t a love story. Or rather it is a love story, but the love is sororal, not romantic. It’s about two women finding their place in the world – Elsa’s culminating outfit is a sparkly white pantsuit – but even acknowledging the immense charm of Murin and the stateliness of Levy, this Elsa and Anna feel less like real women and more like storyboards with great wigs. Anna is giddy and impulsive, Elsa closed off to the point of pathology. That’s it. Musical theater places a greater emphasis on character than most works of animation, even sophisticated works like the Frozen film, so while it seems at least a little wrongheaded to ask a show based on a cartoon for more interiority, more dimensionality, that’s what’s needed.

Jelani Alladin and Andrew Pirozzi in Frozen: The Musical.
Jelani Alladin and Andrew Pirozzi in Frozen: The Musical. Photograph: Deen van Meer

Part of the problem is that the women aren’t given all that much to do. The central action is a quest narrative, but it’s a quest that’s easily accomplished. Anna climbs a mountain in search of Elsa; Elsa descends it to find Anna. They don’t encounter much in the way of obstacles – no wolves here, no snow monster, one friendly bunraku-style snowman – and when they do gain a boon it’s pretty much by accident. Without the gorgeous distractions of computer animation, the story feels thin.

The new songs are capable and one of them, Monster, sung by Levy, neatly transfers Elsa from one psychological state to another, but none of them stick with the tongue-to-frozen-flagpole ferocity of Let It Go or Love Is an Open Door or even Do You Want to Build a Snowman. The uptempo duet between Anna and Kristoff, You Don’t Know About Love, just isn’t as compelling as her earlier duet with Hans (a clever John Riddle). The other number devoted to the pair, Fixer Upper, has been reassigned to the hidden folk, based on the Scandinavian Huldufólk, and it is way too giddy for them. If you’re going to go to all of the trouble to embed the Broadway version with figures from actual Nordic mythology, why freight them with such a goofball song?

None of this seemed to rattle the legions of little girls in the audience who had dressed as Elsa or the few who had come as Anna. (No Svens. Yet.) Frozen could be more inventive, more imaginative, more vital, more necessary. But as those little girls would almost certainly say, let it go.


Alexis Soloski

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Disney's Frozen musical opens on Broadway: 'More nudity than expected'
After a trial run in Denver, the stage adaptation of the animated smash hits New York and a passionate fanbase is already out in force – and in costume

Alexis Soloski

23, Feb, 2018 @4:31 PM

Article image
Frozen to be turned into a Broadway musical
Disney CEO confirms that early discussions are under way to adapt the Golden Globe-winning animated hit for the stage

Matt Trueman

14, Jan, 2014 @5:14 PM

Article image
Frozen stage show fixes up a 2018 date for Broadway
The film’s screenwriter and songwriters have signed up to adapt the Disney sensation

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

10, Feb, 2016 @10:26 AM

Article image
‘Big sisters are magic!’ Frozen musical set to cause a West End flurry
Jennifer Lee, Disney Animation’s chief creative officer and the writer and co-director of Frozen, describes expanding her hit for the stage, and reveals whether she’s more of an Elsa or an Anna

Lyndsey Winship

30, Aug, 2021 @7:03 AM

Article image
Mean Girls, Frozen and Denzel: what to expect on Broadway in 2018
Blockbuster movie musicals are set to dominate over the next 12 months while a host of big star names will also be jostling for Tonys

Alexis Soloski

02, Jan, 2018 @11:00 AM

Article image
Frozen review – Disney's thrilling but occasionally gluggy stage musical won't let audience go
Capitol Theatre, Sydney
Disney’s powerhouse musical makes its international debut on Australian stages – and becomes the only place in the world that it’s still showing

Cassie Tongue

11, Dec, 2020 @1:22 AM

Article image
Idina Menzel’s If/Then is let go by Broadway
Musical starring the Frozen singer will close at the Richard Rodgers theatre in New York in March 2015, a year after it opened

Guardian staff

10, Jan, 2015 @9:45 PM

Article image
The golden couple behind Frozen: 'Letting it go is drinking a bottle of chardonnay'
It’s the grand slam – an Emmy, a Grammy, an Oscar, a Tony – and Robert Lopez has done it twice. The EGOT champ and Kristen Anderson-Lopez, his wife and co-composer, talk about penning songs during fights and picnics – and taking Elsa to Broadway

Alexis Soloski

18, Mar, 2018 @3:00 PM

Article image
Frozen review – stunning musical extravaganza creates its own magic
Beyond the visual thrills and powerful ballads, this adaptation brings an unexpected depth to the relationship between two tortured sisters

Arifa Akbar

08, Sep, 2021 @10:30 PM

Article image
The Cher Show review – Broadway musical is a mixed bag of pop excess
A jukebox ode to the megastar contains some dazzling numbers but suffers from some clumsy storytelling

Alexis Soloski

04, Dec, 2018 @2:00 AM