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

Disney unleashed Frozen onto the world in 2013. Inspired by a fairytale – it’s loosely based on The Snow Queen – Jennifer Lee’s script about sisterly love, sacrifice and loneliness (OK, it’s still Disney: there’s also a talking snowman who’s obsessed with summer) was an instant hit. It was lifted higher by spare but affecting songs, the jewel of which is the anthemic Let it Go by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez. Frozen is the 16th highest-grossing film worldwide; it was the best-selling musical in the United States (now only surpassed by its own sequel and the 2019 live-action remake of Aladdin).

At Thursday night’s opening, excitement thrummed through the audience. When the first notes of the show rang out, the crowd erupted with full-throated (and fully masked) cheers. Disney is a powerful beast.

It’s no surprise that the show has been adapted for the stage. With strong international appeal and family-friendly story, it was only a matter of time before it landed in Australia – but no one anticipated that it would be the only Frozen in the world when it got here. The show was the first to announce its permanent closure on Broadway in March amid the Covid-19 shutdown, and its US national tour, too, was immediately halted. It was a sudden, stuttering end to a show that was still evolving – just one month earlier, almost two years after it opened on Broadway, the production had added two new songs to deepen the story.

Now, the only place they can be heard (aside from a few bootleg versions online) is in Sydney’s Capitol Theatre.

Jemma Rix, Matt Lee and Courtney Monsma as Elsa, Olaf and Anna.
Jemma Rix, Matt Lee and Courtney Monsma as Elsa, Olaf and Anna. Photograph: Lisa Tomasetti

The musical is a padded-out, sometimes gluggy, often thrilling expansion of the film. The sisterly bond between Elsa (Jemma Rix as an adult, and the remarkably composed Deeana Cheong Foo as her younger counterpart) and Anna (Courtney Monsma as an adult, and the irresistible Chloe Delle-Vedove as a child – who nearly walked away with the whole show) is front and centre here.

Elsa can make magic with snow and ice, and after a young and enthusiastic playtime with Anna ends in disaster, their bond shatters. Elsa, struggling to contain her powers, retreats. Anna, whose memory of the incident has been removed by the Hidden Folk (folkloric elves who replace the trolls of the film), can’t understand why her sister avoids her. They sing together more here than in the film; in musical theatre convention, where singing holds the heart of everything, that means everything: it elevates the strength of their relationship.

Sean Sinclair as Kristoff and Lochie McIntyre as Sven the reindeer.
Sean Sinclair as Kristoff and Lochie McIntyre in the physically demanding role of Sven the reindeer. Photograph: Lisa Tomasetti

At first, all eyes are on Elsa, who has the show-stopper. Let it Go is the act one closer, and the final half of the act occasionally feels like a waiting game for the song that lifts you out of reality into musical elation, but when we get there it’s clear that it was worth the wait. Jemma Rix is a musical theatre powerhouse, whose previous turn as Elphaba in the vocally demanding Wicked (Frozen on stage owes a lot to Wicked, both structurally and musically) is stuff of international legend. She does not disappoint. She takes the song deeper and adds more power than the film version, and the Disney magic that sees her glove and cloak fly offstage to achieve a near-impossible costume change is genuinely delightful. The audience roars. The audience will always roar. It’s a rush.

But this is Monsma’s show. As Anna, who must journey through a pesky eternal winter to save her sister, she is the musical’s momentum. She brings lightness. The instant that her lonely home castle is open to guests for her sister’s coronation, she’s giddy, and so are we; she falls head-over heels for the Disney prince of her dreams (or is he?), Hans (the slick Thomas McGuane), and she banters with mountain man Kristoff (Sean Sinclair, a natural leading man) like she’s right out of an updated screwball comedy. An effortless soprano with energy to spare, her songs seem to tumble out and shimmer in the air. She sparkles.

The company of Frozen
Frozen: plenty to like, and plenty to tug at heartstrings. Photograph: Lisa Tomasetti

Everything else onstage is in support of the sisters, like the warm hugs Olaf the Snowman (Matt Lee and puppet, cute) loves so much. The ensemble moves and sings like a dream, and builds out the world of Arendelle with charming secondary characters (we even learn more about the sisters’ mother). Plus Lochie McIntyre, with impossible physical demands to meet, plays Sven the reindeer with more grace and gravity than you would expect.

The scenic ice-and-frost effects (designed by Christopher Oram) are hit-and-miss. Humbler expressions of weather, like snow that rains down in flurries from the hand, are far more successful than the lights and LED effects that carve out ice and feel flat, commercial, compromised; later, in the show’s climatic blizzard scene, the ensemble moves together as a snowstorm, and it’s striking. It’s a shame that Frozen tries too hard.

But there’s plenty to like, and plenty to tug at heartstrings. It does what a musical is supposed to do: it moves you.

Frozen is showing at the Capitol Theatre, Sydney


Cassie Tongue

The GuardianTramp

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