Review By Lisa Lanzi
This. This is why we go to the theatre to see musicals. The phenomenal talent on stage, the total commitment to excellence, the brilliance of creative and technical teams in the background pulling it all together so we get to experience theatre magic, transported for a time to other worlds and swept away from stark reality for a precious moment. Frozen is exactly the antidote needed at this point in time and audiences are clearly hungry for live theatre and the blissful escapism it might offer.
Interspersed alongside the more famous film favourites, twelve new songs have been added to this production by original composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. The film’s co-director Jennifer Lee, also responsible for the screenplay, has contributed the book here with some characters deleted and the addition of the ‘Hidden Folk’ to replace The Trolls from the film. Another delightful aspect is the ‘hero(ine) journey’ undertaken by Anna (Courtney Monsma) plus the presence of other strong female characters, including of course Elsa (Jemma Rix). In a way, more so than the film, this is Anna’s story and a celebration of female friendship and the bonds of sisterhood… and because it IS Disney after all, the notion of true love conquering adversity.
Still based on Hans Christian Andersen’s beloved 1844 tale The Snow Queen, the stage musical recreates the fictional kingdom of Arendelle and surrounds through Christopher Oram’s large-scale Nordic-inspired set and sumptuous costume designs that cycle through a number of colour palettes. However, the set would not appear as impressive if it wasn’t for Natasha Katz’s lighting choices and the astonishing effects courtesy of Jeremy Chernick and video contributions by Finn Ross. The synergy of costuming, music, lights, sound and choreography creates some of the most beautifully realised moments within this show. Puppet design by Michael Curry is outstanding as is Peter Hylenski’s sound design. Fastidious attention to detail has delivered the theatre magic that the Frozen story demands while creating the perfect canvas to frame the cast and allow them to shine. Choreography too was a beautiful and integral part of the work from Tony, Olivier, Emmy, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Award-winning director/choreographer Rob Ashford. Movement and dance were seamlessly blended throughout the story and musical numbers elevating both characters and plot to the necessary hyper-real, fantastical status they should attain in this musical, permitting the audience to suspend disbelief and indulge in the enchantment.
Thomas Schumacher, Disney Theatrical Productions’ President and Producer, introduces this production as the first to be performed anywhere in the world outside of America and praises, rightly so, the assembled all-Australian company. Across the board, from Principal cast to ensemble members and child actors, the impeccable performers ooze talent and dedication. Vocals, movement, and acting were all of the highest standard and the palpable sense of camaraderie on stage added to the strength and energy of the whole vision.
Vastly experienced and graced with a powerful yet exquisite vocal range, Jemma Rix makes the Elsa character entirely her own with exceptional nuance. Rix endows Elsa with regal poise as well as gentle warmth, her acting and singing bringing welcome depth to the conflicted Queen. Courtney Monsma similarly owns her Anna role with all the comedic quirks and innocence the sheltered Princess possesses but additionally grants this Anna determination, courage, resilience and unwavering loyalty. Monsma’s entire triple-threat performance is a delight while her perfect vocals still allow the character’s personality to show through.
Other female cast members also excelled as did the children playing the youthful Anna and Elsa (a rotating cast of eight). Jayme-Lee Hanekom was an earthy and endearing Bulda, the matriarch of the Hidden Folk, and Tanika Anderson as Queen Iduna wove a distinguished and mysterious aura around the character. The male leads were also uber-talented giving voice and life to Hans, the Thirteenth Son of a King (an appropriately elegant Thomas McGuane), Kristoff (a dashing Sean Sinclair), and Olaf (a puppet-manipulating and utterly engaging Matt Lee). Sven the endearing, shaggy reindeer may have been either Jonathan MacMillan or Lochie McIntyre moving and interacting superbly under the large, whimsical costume. Aljin Abella appeared as the misguided Duke of Weselton and Joti Gore gave us the loving and stately King Agnarr. Each and any of the marvellous ensemble/swings could be soloists or leads, such was the verve and excellence on show, vocally and throughout the balletic choreography.
This is a must-see production, even if you haven’t seen (!) or been a fan of the animated film, or previously been a lover of musicals - Frozen will convert you. There is much to entertain adults and children alike and enough theatrical trickery that will leave even the most jaded theatre-goer gasping, including a dazzling costume change that leaves you wondering how the **** it was accomplished. It made my heart sing to see and hear such a talented Australian cast absolutely slaying the material and bringing fantasy to life. Back to the theatre!