Even by the very high standards set by their Disney-princess peers, the Arendelle royal sisters are the hardest-working women in show business.
Weeks before its late November 2013 debut, “Frozen” was already carrying (crystallized) water for the Disneyland resort; Elsa (Idina Menzel) debuted the smash hit “Let It Go” not on screen but in California Adventure’s seasonal “World of Color” show, which Olaf (Josh Gad) narrated.
Since then, Elsa, Anna, and Olaf have been multi-platforming just as fast as they can. Meet-and-greets, parades, singalongs, a real-snow Winter-Wonderland — even with the magic, these vaguely Scandinavian folks possess a very impressive work ethic.
And now they have a Broadway musical.
Or at least the beginnings of one. “Frozen Live,” which premiered at California Adventure’s Hyperion Theater on May 27, is a lovely and family-friendly 45-minute theatrical version of the film, with equally blockbuster ambitions and a racially diverse cast.
Directed by Liesl Tommy (“Eclipsed”), it presents a streamlined telling of the “Frozen” tale adorned with all manner of innovative and dramatic stage craft: high-concept scenery as in “The Phantom of the Opera” (OK, yes, there is a chandelier and it drops), anthropomorphic puppetry like that made famous by Julie Taymor’s “The Lion King” and, of course, plenty of Disney’s signature digital wizardry.
So there’s a lot going on in 45 minutes, not the least of which is the surprising pleasure of seeing these particular animated characters turned human. (Or in the case of Olaf and Sven, created here by actors wearing body puppets but remaining visible and reactive, partly human.)
The near-manic excitement and goofy humor of Anna especially benefits from live performance; the woman who played the grown character during the press premiere (because of the cast’s large and revolving nature, Disney does not provide performer names) landed Anna most delightfully, as one assumes the other actors will, in the fast-talking, physical comedy of, say, Carole Lombard or Claudette Colbert.
The sisters’ literal and emotional separation becomes even more dramatic onstage, as does Elsa’s signature song (if that is even possible). “Let It Go” is a real-deal showstopper in a scene that benefits from being performed live, and this Elsa delivered.
As for Olaf, well, he may not show up until halfway through the play, but, constructed here as the familiar snowman puppet attached at the feet and arms to an equally charming performer, he is twice as entertaining.
This being Disney, no expense was spared. With endless yards of a high-tech “Aurora” curtain, the Hyperion now surrounds its audience in ever-shifting mood lighting and scenery. Onstage, an enormous LED video wall serves as the backdrop, creating movement and immersion effects as reminiscent of the ride “Soarin’ Over California” as the technology behind, say, Javert’s fall in more recent versions of “Les Mis.”
Indeed, the show opens with a truly breathtaking flight from seaside Arendelle, up over snow-covered mountains to the land’s chilly interior, where the ice cutters work and sing.
But this is not an all-digital extravaganza by any means; while “Frozen Live” is clearly built to dazzle (and offer the foot-weary an hour of respite), it is an admirable balance of modern and traditional stagecraft.
When Elsa builds her icy palace, for example, a glittering staircase appears, which, at the climax of the famous song, swings out over the audience most effectively; Kristoff’s sled (aided by the backdrop) travels realistically, and the scene in which sled and occupants fall is downright hilarious. (The wolves precipitating the fall, however, may prove a bit scary to very young audience members.)
There is snow (of the bubble variety), but there is also dancing and a few moments, like the actual coronation scene, of more traditional theater that one hopes will not be excised as the show is tweaked.
As has been heralded by much garment rending, “Frozen Live” replaces the wildly popular “Aladdin.” With no equivalent of Genie’s tent-pole presence and contemporary comedy, it’s tough to imagine the new show duplicating “Aladdin’s” 13-year run.
But who knows? “Frozen Live” will no doubt delight millions for as long as the story’s spell holds, and that may be a very long time. Because while it took “Aladdin” 12 years to get from Anaheim to Broadway, a full-length “Frozen” musical is on schedule to debut in 2018.
Arendelle royalty, man, they just never stop.
When: Ongoing, with multiple shows a day
Where: Hyperion Theater, Disney California Adventure Park
Tickets: Included in admission to the park