Soaring voices, sparkling talent and technical brilliance make Frozen the coolest musical this season.
|Category||Score (out of 10)|
|Direction (Benjamin Osbourne)||10|
|Book (Jennifer Lee)||8|
|Music and Lyrics (Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez)||9|
|Cast (Sarah O’Connor, Jemma Rix, Matt Lee, Thomas McGuane, Brendan Xavier, Doron Chester, Yvan Karlsson, Evan Strand and ensemble)||10|
|Music Performance and Orchestra (David Young – Music Director)||10|
|Scenic Design (Christopher Oram)||10|
|Lighting Design (Natasha Katz)||10|
|Video Design (Finn Ross)||10|
|Puppet Design (Michael Curry)||10|
|Costumes/Hair/Makeup (Christopher Oram/David Bryan Brown/Anne Ford-Coates)||10|
|Special Effects Design (Jeremy Chernick)||10|
|Choreography (Rob Ashford)||10|
When Frozen was released in cinemas back in 2013, it felt like a revolutionary Disney film in multiple ways. Not only did it single-handedly deliver a feminist pushback against classic tropes of princesses in peril and subverted the meaning of true love’s kiss, but also contained the incredible ‘Let It Go’ as a mid-movie climax, inspiring a generation of children (and adults) to sing in their best Idina Menzel impression, about living out loud and out proud, against a lifetime of repressing one’s true self.
Ten years on, and Frozen has since been adapted for Broadway, reuniting Frozen’s original creatives Jennifer Lee (Book) and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Music and Lyrics). In this musical version, the original runtime has been extended with 12 new songs, countless intricate costumes and massive set pieces, and a blizzard of stage magic that creates illusions of ice and snow.
Directed by Benjamin Osbourne, this touring production of Frozen makes its only Asian stop in Singapore, and features a powerhouse cast that brings the beloved characters and story to life. As with any work backed by Disney, no expense is spared when it comes to the quality of the production. Stepping into the theatre, one is already impressed by the almost ancient looking arch while a video projection of the aurora is framed within, priming us for the Scandinavian-inspired kingdom of Arendelle.
One doesn’t have to have watched the film to appreciate Frozen in all its theatrical brilliance. It does however, take a while to get the story moving. The entire opening segment, for example, spends what feels like a good quarter of an hour establishing Elsa and Anna’s childhood, verging on an excess of exposition that the show has to get through. It is when Sarah O’Connor and Jemma Rix finally arrive onstage, as the older versions of the royal sisters, that the musical can finally begin, midway through ‘Do You Want To Build A Snowman?’.
This segues smoothly into ‘For The First Time In Forever’, which gives Sarah O’Connor, as Anna, a chance to show off her keen characterisation, bringing an effervescent joy to her demeanour, where even with a heavy-looking, multi-layered dress, she moves with a feather-lightness and free spirit. Even as a non-magical character, Sarah gets to show off a few tricks of her own, performing a whirlwind quick change that sees Anna going from bedhead to beautiful in a matter of seconds.
In contrast, Jemma Rix, as Elsa, glides with regal grace and a coldness to her voice. She understands the role entirely, and during Elsa’s coronation, embodies the character’s central idea of ‘conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show’. Afraid to lose control and reveal her powers, she gingerly and nervously picks up the orb and sceptre with her bare hands, before quickly returning them and hurriedly putting her gloves back on in ‘Dangerous to Dream’, a tentative number that gives Elsa the beginning notes of confidence to believe everything’s going to be alright.
Other main cast members also shine bright in the first act. Thomas McGuane, as Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, is earnest and practically charming when he and Anna bump into each other, and the would-be lovers show off agile choreography in strong, flexible bodies as they perform the soaring duet ‘Love Is An Open Door’. Brendan Xavier, as Kristoff, gives off a boy-next-door persona, and shows off his singing voice in the silly but sincere ‘Reindeer(s) Are Better Than People’.
Speaking of which, Kristoff is joined by the reindeer Sven, in an incredibly physically demanding role achieved via puppetry and stilts. Perched on all fours and landing in seemingly impossible positions for a human to achieve so smoothly, Sven is a role shared between Yvan Karlsson and Evan Strand, who turn a costume into a realistic reindeer. Even without spoken lines, we know exactly what he’s thinking and feeling through carefully choreographed animal movement, from ‘neck’ to ‘legs’, and even blinks and grunts in response to stimulus.
The other puppeteer of the cast, Matt Lee, is a stage veteran. As awkward as it might sound to have a short, puppet snowman in front of you at all times, he nails the role of Olaf with aplomb. Unlike Sven, at no point does he try to hide the fact that there is a human in control here, in a role that allows him more freedom of expression, hitting all his comedic beats, and almost acrobatically juggling a tiny hat with Olaf’s stick hands and showing off his vocals in the charming ‘In Summer’.
It is the end of the first act however, that confirms why the original Frozen was such a hit, with the incomparable ‘Let It Go’. Without a doubt, this is the show’s highest point, representing a fundamental shift in Elsa’s perception that liberates her mind and body, with Jemma Rix doing this signature song more than justice. The song in and of itself tells an entire psychological journey of transformation. Cold and alone, she trudges up the icy mountain, her ‘kingdom of isolation’ from fear of hurting others. Yet she takes a deep breath, at peace with herself, and hesitantly allows the wind to steal away her gloves and cape, beginning to accept her powers and grow increasingly comfortable using and displaying them.
As the song reaches the chorus again, there is a noticeable rise in confidence, and by the time she sings ‘that perfect girl is gone’, you feel a chill in the air, as if Elsa has literally just ascended a mountain and stands proud from this new perspective. In just a matter of moments, Elsa has mastered her full powers, a total release that sees her constructing entire castles around her. With a stomp and a blinding flash of light, a casual letting loose of her hair, and the triumphant transformation is complete, with Jemma, as Elsa, a celestial vision in white, standing tall and proud in all her glory before the end of Act I.
Come the second act, the energy in the theatre dips somewhat, with the younger audience members already tired, and the show itself having peaked with its standout number. That’s not to say it doesn’t try – ‘Hygge’ and ‘Fixer Upper’ are both fun scenes that involve the entire ensemble performing dizzying mass numbers, whether slapping each other with olive branches or spinning about to disco lights emitted from a precious stone. ‘Monster’ is also a welcome addition to the soundtrack that offers greater character development and introspection for Elsa; the song acts as a soliloquy that shows her fear creeping back in, and offers Jemma a different vocal range to display how much mastery and emotion she has in her voice.
What Frozen also gets so right is the technical and design aspects throughout the show. Finn Ross’ video design is subtle, but manages to make even minute changes in the time of day or night creep in without realising it, while the projection mapping and lighting successfully cloaks the mountainous set pieces in ice, shimmering as if gently reflecting the glare of sunlight, or Elsa’s snowflake sculpted ice palace, glittering like million crystals, and showcasing an impressive diversity to how one can portray ice. Everything has been intricately imagineered to be picture perfect, from Elsa’s almost sacred coronation, to the treacherous mountain Anna and Kristoff scale, to the stunning moment of truth when Elsa saves Anna. There is always something aesthetic and visually-pleasing to gaze upon onstage, and reflects how amidst the monstrosity Elsa has been perceived as, there is always a way to access the beautiful potential she has in her powers as well.
Frozen‘s claim to fame came with ‘Let It Go’, but this musical proves that there’s more to it than just one song. It may be heavy on exposition for a relatively straightforward storyline, but Frozen‘s songs and choreography continually drive it forward till it reaches its revolutionary, sisterhood-championing happy ending. This is an outstanding cast who understands and respects their roles, and proves it with their pitch perfect execution of the material. As Elsa and Anna embrace, the show’s central message that true love is putting someone else’s needs above your own rings loud in our consciousness. It is when we finally put aside our doubts and let our minds be free, that we can channel our strengths and turn our fears into something truly magical and powerful, and melt even the coldest of hearts.
Photo Credits: Disney Theatrical Productions and Base Entertainment Asia
Frozen The Musical plays from 5th February 2023 at the Sands Theatre. Tickets available here
Saw Frozen through the Us Tour last year- loved it
One little mistake- Sven is only one actor, by the way. They are only shared by two actors, as in alternating every show