Review by Thomas Gregory
Adapting any work to stage is difficult. When that work is an animated feature that includes an anthropomorphic snowman, trolls, and sorcery that builds an ice castle from nothing, it requires something magical.
Disney Theatrical Production has experience in such magic. Since 1994, the company has been adapting animated masterpieces from Beauty and the Beast to The Lion King. When Frozen opened in 2018, it made Broadway history for the highest box office advance ever.
For the first time since it was forced to close in March 2020, Frozen is back. The first Disney Theatrical production to launch since the pandemic is bringing Melbourne audiences back into the theatre.
As one might expect from a production that boasted a larger budget to make than most feature films, Frozen is an extravaganza. Sparks appear to fly from fingertips, as an award-winning combination of set design, lighting, and special effects bring fairy-tale magic to life. In the blink of an eye, an ice palace is converted to a postcard-perfect summer scene, before disappearing like a snowflake on the wind. Queen Elsa’s dress, which is said to contain over 14000 hand-sewn beads and crystals, shimmers in the light.
Jemma Rix brings a gravitas to the role of Queen Elsa that fits the tone of this adaptation perfectly. Her powerful rendition of the oscar-award-winning “Let it Go” is tinged with an element of ironic longing that was lacking from the original film. An actress that offers both strength and vulnerability at the same time, Rix is captivating in every moment on stage.
However, for all the vocal prowess and sheer charisma of Rix, it is Courtney Monsma as Princess Anna who is the true star of the show. A vibrant performer who brings a sense of enthusiastic optimism to the role of Anna, Monsma has an incredible sense of comic timing. With a single look, pause, or wave of her hand, she can lighten an otherwise downbeat scene and bring life to jokes that might fall flat in other hands.
When Rix and Monsma take the stage together, a new kind of magic occurs. Their portrayal of sisterly love is unquestionably the best part of the show.
While the supporting cast of the show consists of the high-quality performers you expect to find in Australian professional theatre, some deserve special recognition. Isobel Lauber’s turn as young Elsa is a heart-wrenching performance that makes it so much easier to empathise with the adult queen. After her role as young Fiona in Shrek the Musical, it is clear that this is an actor to keep an eye out for.
Jayme-Lee Hanekom, who otherwise forms part of the perfectly choreographed ensemble, offers such a strong presentation of maternal strength and raw spirituality to the role of Bulda that it may be hard to accept how little the character appeared in the show.
Frozen adds ten new songs not found in the original motion picture, the best of which is “What do you know about love?”. Sometimes the budding relationship between Anna and Kristoff can be hard to believe but the inclusion of this song and its reprise in “Kristoff Lullaby” offers up more than any extra scenes ever could. Changes to the plot appear to be primarily based on logistics, it being a little too difficult to create a convincing ice golem, or expect to see a snowman slalom down a hill.
Frozen isn’t the perfect musical. While Helpman-award winner Matt Lee offers a stellar performance as puppeteer and voice of Olaf, one can not help but ask if he would have done an even greater role in costume. Sven the reindeer, while a practical feat, looked more suited to any future adaptation directed by Tim Burton.
As the production takes a very slightly more mature tone than the movie, it is unfortunate to note several jokes added that are simply not of the quality that deserves to be uttered on stage in a professional show. It is fortunate then that, in the hands of talented professionals, they can still elicit some laughter. While some actors struggled more than others in nailing down their speaking accents, all were incredible singers and dancers.
While it may not convince us entirely of a world filled with magic and wonder, Frozen offers a heartfelt relationship between sisters, wrapped in an illusionary masterpiece of musical theatre. Frozen is on at Her Majesty’s Theatre, and shows are already selling out fast.
Image Credit: Lisa Tomasetti