Remember L.A. in 2013 at the peak of the mania for the Disney movie “Frozen”? When the clarion command to “Let It Go” rang through the air? When little girls wore blue satin and blond fishtail braids and conjured fearsome powers that they, like Princess Elsa, struggled to hold back?
After a relatively warm interregnum, a new ice age is upon us. “Frozen 2” is in cinemas, the “Frozen” musical is still running on Broadway, and now the musical’s North American tour has come to the Hollywood Pantages. Amid an army of tiny Elsas and their adult retinue on opening night, I may have been the only person feeling anxious about how “Frozen” would work on the stage.
Animated movies and live stage musicals are different beasts, and although some of the company’s previous Broadway translations have soared (“The Lion King”), others have stumbled (“The Little Mermaid”). I remembered the film “Frozen” as so quick and light on its feet, the animation so fluid, the panoramas so sweeping. Could songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, book writer Jennifer Lee and the Olivier- and Tony-winning director Michael Grandage cram all that energy into a box? Could human bodies cavort as nimbly as drawings? Would the musical find persuasive ways to include Olaf the talking snowman and Sven the reindeer?
Would there be ice?
Finally, could the two animated princesses’ heartrending emotions find expression in human eyes, lacking as they do the dimensions of salad plates?
I’m pleased to report that the answers to all these questions turned out to be yes. Inevitable qualifications aside, the North American tour is irresistible in its creativity and verve, seeking and often discovering the right balance between re-creation and innovation.
Christopher Oram’s scenic and costume design, Natasha Katz’s lighting and Finn Ross’ video projections bring the fictional Nordic kingdom of Arendelle gorgeously into three dimensions. When it’s time for things to freeze over, they do so in a symphony of stagecraft, with sound designer Peter Hylenski, special-effects designer Jeremy Chernick and choreographer Rob Ashford each contributing a memorable take on ice and snow.
There is frigid lighting and chilly CGI, jagged translucent set pieces and glittering cascades of crystals, all accompanied by the ominous cracking of lake ice. A blustery snowstorm is a tight knot of dancers, dressed in winter whites, alternately engulfing and extruding passersby.
The designers’ collective ingenuity culminates in “Let It Go,” just before intermission, when Elsa’s ice fortress of solitude rises around her while she belts out her anthem to self-expression, spectacularly changing outfits mid-chorus.
Puppet designer Michael Curry’s charming solutions for Broadway have come along for the ride too. Olaf is a standing puppet who goes around with his handler (F. Michael Haynie) right behind him. This double entity is distracting at first, but it’s amazing how quickly you get used to it. Both faces express the same endearingly dopey sweetness.
Sven is a life-size reindeer with Collin Baja (alternating with Evan Strand) hooked up inside him. The situation looks painful for the actor, and Sven’s hindquarters are distressingly droopy and his footing uncertain, so although I fell for him immediately, I was more relaxed when he was lying down, blinking his pretty eyes.
The show, probably wisely, expunges the movie’s Marshmallow, the ice monster, and the trolls have been transformed into Hidden Hill Folk, a tribe of sexy faun-like creatures with dreadlocks, tails and cut abs, evidently inspired by Scandinavian mythology. (I couldn’t help wondering why they don’t wear shirts, considering all the ice.)
But what sold me on this show was its emotional impact: how eloquently it portrays the bond between the sisters Elsa and Anna. We meet them as girls, when they’re played by the enchanting Alyssa Kim and Stella R. Cobb (alternating with Jaiden Klein and Arwen Monzon-Sanders), the closest of friends until Elsa accidentally injures Anna with her ice magic. The girls are separated, the palace doors are shut, Anna’s memory of the incident is erased, and she is left baffled and yearning for her sister. By the day of Elsa’s coronation, the characters have grown up to be portrayed by Caroline Bowman (Elsa) and Caroline Innerbichler (Anna).
Both Carolines sing gorgeously, and both capture the physicality of their animated counterparts — Elsa stiff and self-contained, Anna lithe and pliant, adorably eager for connection. Anna’s spirited performance of “Love Is an Open Door” with the empathetic stranger Prince Hans (Austin Colby) is a highlight of the first act; Ashford’s choreography especially delicious here.
The sisters have a new second-act duet, “I Can’t Lose You,” added for the tour. Dramatically, it helps to clarify Elsa’s side of the story, the reason she keeps rejecting Anna’s overtures. Musically, it didn’t blow me away. But what a treat for us Angelenos, who rarely get a first look at anything, at least where Broadway is concerned.
Where the show falls obviously short of the film is during Anna’s wintry mountain mission with Kristoff the ice merchant (the adorable Mason Reeves). In the film, their scrappy rapport develops gradually, against a series of high-flying adventures, but the stage show truncates most of those and drops in a song, “Hygge” (a Danish word meaning cozy), at Wandering Oaken’s Trading Post. The number is cute and involves naked sauna customers (actors in skin-colored bodysuits) whipping each other with branches. But the Anna-Kristoff love story doesn’t quite jell.
Maybe that’s OK. The heart of “Frozen” is the sisters’ relationship. It’s hard to imagine a cozier holiday family outing than the musical “Frozen,” followed by cocoa. Romance can wait until next year.
When: 8 p.m Tuesdays-Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 1 and 7 p.m. Sundays, through Feb. 2 (see website for holiday exceptions)
Tickets: $39-$239 (subject to change)
Info: (800) 982-2787, BroadwayinHollywood.com or Ticketmaster.com
Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes (including one intermission)