Disney’s Frozen the Musical Eccles Theater Salt Lake City October 27, 2021
Reviewed by Kevin Rolfe
Warning: This review contains mild spoilers. If you haven’t seen the production and don’t want anything given away, please read after you’ve seen Frozen.
I’m sorry. I really am. But I have to do it. You know I have to. It’s the most obvious tee up ever. I kinda feel like you’d be disappointed if I didn’t do it. So here it goes (clears throat). It felt so good to be inside Eccles Theater watching a Broadway musical “For the first time in forever”! Ok, I did it, it had to be done, it’s over with. Let’s move on. In all seriousness, it felt amazing to be at a Broadway show. To hear the orchestra warming up in the pit, the ushers guiding people to their seats and handing out programs, the bells indicating that the show was about to begin, all of those once so familiar ellements of live theater felt like a homecoming. Broadway is back in Utah, and the excitement was felt inside the gorgeous Delta Performance Hall.
The first touring production to take the Eccles Theater stage was Disney’s stage adaptation of the animated film, Frozen. The theater was filled with girls of all ages decked out in their Anna and Elsa gowns and costumes. Once we were all in our seats, the voice that tells us to put away our phones and warns us that there is no taking of photos said, “Welcome back to the theater.” A large cheer rang out. This was going to be a good crowd and an exciting night for theater.
The first star of the night was Olivia Jones who at this performance played Young Anna. Her performance of this character with a big personality earned her large laughs. For someone so young her comedic timing was spot on. The staging and production were huge but for her short time on stage as Anna, the smallest performer completely captured the attention of the audience. I quickly realized how well this production was cast and how vital chemistry is between the characters.
While Natalia Artigas as Young Elsa didn’t have the big laughs and big personality required for Anna’s role, she gave a dramatic performance well beyond her years. The feelings of guilt, shame, and being a danger to others because of her powers is present throughout much of Elsa’s journey in the production. But that emotional tone began with Artigas. She did just that. The chemistry between the young actors was best displayed during “A Little Bit of You”.
The transition from the young actors to the adults was seamless. We quickly saw Caroline Innerbichler carry the baton from Olivia Jones as she became instantly beloved by the audience portraying the grown up Anna. Caroline Bowman brought a captivating presence as the adult Elsa. The chemistry between the Carolines matched then surpassed that of their younger counterparts. From Elsa wanting to protect Anna, and Anna wanting to be a part of Elsa’s life, there was an earnestness in the actors portrayal that drew me into this production.
The thing I look forward to the most in a Disney theatrical adaptation is how they’re going to bring characters that aren’t humans to life on stage. It’s easy to have someone play Anna or Kristoff. They’re people. But how do you bring Olaf or Sven to a live production? Disney time and time again has found creative ways to accomplish this feat. Sven, the reindeer was the first nonhuman character to take the stage. And sure enough, the audience was stunned when Sven, the reindeer came trotting on stage next to Kristoff. The audience cheered with delight.
How did they do it? Some guessed it was two people inside like the old horse costume with one as the hind legs and the other as the head and front legs. But this was one person, Collin Baja. I think the legs were extended by stilts. But it was incredible to see. The eyes moved, the trotting and galloping were like that of an actual deer. It was so impressive and the audience absolutely loved it. Baja never reveals himself, even in the bows, but I hope he knows how much the audience enjoyed his portrayal of Sven.
The next of course was Olaf. How do you recreate this lovable snowman on stage? I wondered if an actor would just walk on stage looking nothing like Olaf from the movie would portray the character and we would eventually come around to this theatrical choice. We didn’t need to extend our imaginations quite that much. Borrowing from some costuming techniques from the Broadway production of Lion King, the Olaf we know and love walked on stage to a huge ovation with F. Michael Haynie following behind puppeteering him.
It’s amazing how quickly you focus on Olaf the puppet and almost forget that Haynie is right there. I made a point to focus on F. Michael Haynie from time to time to see what he does when the puppet is drawing the most attention. He masterfully emulates much of what the puppet is doing, both in facial expression and physical humor. He’s never distracting, and the synergy between the two is definitely worth seeing.
I thought both Austin Colby (Hans) and Mason Reeves (Kristoff) were excellent in their roles. So many fairy tales consist of the great prince or knight saving the maiden. While in certain aspects these men are there to lend a hand, they are not necessarily there to save these women. Particularly Anna. While Hans is the initial love interest, we later see him become the villain. I was surprised at how well Colby made this transition because he’s so likable throughout the musical. I was actually wondering how he would make that switch effectively after being really entertaining and a crowd favorite. But Austin Colby made that switch within a matter of seconds. It was amazing how all of a sudden he’s this terrible guy and we’re like, “Woah, Hans sucks”. Huge props on the acting chops to Mr. Colby.
It was fun to find out that he’s married to our Elsa, Caroline Bowman. What an awesome experience it must be to be able to tour together. That doesn’t happen often for actors so I’m sure they’re not taking it for granted that they get to be in the same cast.
Mason Reeves was a perfect Kristoff. He was funny, he was valiant, and he was a true leading man. The fact that he had chemistry with Sven, showed me all I needed to know. Whatever the scene called for he was there to provide it. In the hilarious Act II opener, “Hygge” he was the sanity to the ridiculousness. When he thought he needed to be the true love’s kiss to save Anna, he was the knight in shining armor. When he realized he wasn’t needing to be the masculine savior, he played the equal support to Anna. Reeves and Caroline Innerbichler worked well together. Their timing was great and they brought their story to life. And as I mentioned, in “Reindeer Are Better Than People” he made us believe he was lifelong friends with Sven.
The ensemble as a whole brought life to this production. Transitioning from guests at Elsa’s coronation to townspeople to the Hidden People, they made me forget they were the same actors in each scene. It’s not easy to switch from scene to scene and have people not think, “Oh weren’t they just the bishop?” The choreography and dancing in this show were delightful as well. Going from Ballroom to Folk to even throwing in hints of Hip-Hop, and even a throwback to old burlesque scene with the feather fans (No there was no nudity. It’s Disney, folks. Behind the leafy fans were bodysuits. Come on!) there was never a misstep and the lines were perfect.
I loved the diversity in this cast. It made me happy to think that anyone in the audience of any race or color could see themselves on that stage. I hope we continue to see more of it. I believe we will. The production perfectly weaves songs from the movie with songs added to the stage version. There’s never a moment where you’re left wanting to hear the familiar tunes. They’re always just minutes away.
One of the great perks of a theatrical production is the ability to get deeper into the characters. Something that I, an adult, really enjoyed, but something that seemed less interesting for some of the children in the audience. Some of the scenes with more character development brought some squirming in the seats for the younger audience. However, that never lasted too long as this production moved along nicely.
Like I said, I loved the depth that Caroline Bowman brought to Elsa. We felt her struggle, her angst, even to the point of depression. But we felt her release during “Let it Go”. I would imagine, as it was for me, that this would be the most anticipated song in the production. I wondered if it would close Act I or open Act II and sure enough, it did close the first act. It was everything I wanted it to be. We all know how amazing Idina Menzel is and her recording of this song is now iconic. It’s no small feat to bring something new to the piece and in some ways make it your own.
Bowman did just that. The expression and emotion in a live performance gives so much more to a song. Bowman sounded amazing. Which by the way, I think part of my favorite part of seeing a Broadway show again was getting to hear all of these trained voices. These musical instruments used to perfection were something I missed so much. I have been to a lot of concerts and while I’ve loved those voices, I was so happy to be hearing voices like this again.
I found myself several times wondering, “Who’s the star of this musical? Which sister is actually the lead character?” I think the feeling initially has always been that it’s Elsa. Maybe because she’s the Queen. Or maybe because she has the big song in “Let it Go”. But as I watched this musical, there’s a great deal of time spent on Anna’s journey. In fact the first act of the play I would guess that Anna is on stage longer than Elsa.
So I was curious, as a theatergoer, who bows last at the end of the show. That’s the lead and star of the show. It brought me great joy to see both Caroline and Caroline walk out together. They bowed at the same time too. It was the perfect way to end this production. When it comes down to it, this story is about these two sisters. That despite all the loss and difficulty their love is greater than any of the obstacles presented to them.
I really enjoyed this musical. The sets, the effects, the orchestra, the costumes were all top-notch. But most of all this cast was excellent. I think children and adults will have a hard time not enjoying this musical.
Frozen runs at the Eccles Theater until November 13. Click here to purchase tickets!