🎭 Melting Hearts | “Frozen” @ Hollywood Pantages

Frozen (Hollywood Pantages)Q: So, when Elsa gets hungry in that Ice Palace™ of hers, what does she eat?

A:  Frozen foods.

Are we going out on that joke? No, we’ll do an overdue writeup of a Disney™ animated movie turned into a stage musical first. Will that help? Not much, no.

OK, Stan Freberg aside: Yes, we saw Frozen at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) last Sunday, and this writeup is way way overdue. But it has been a busy busy week in the evenings (which is when I have time to do the writeups), and its not as if this writeup would do much to change the trajectory of this musical, which has its expected popularity with particular audience segments.

The way I’m starting this writeup makes it appear that this was a bad musical. It wasn’t at all. It was essentially the Disney musical on stage, with some adaptations to better fit the limitations of a real, non-animated world. The story was musical to begin with, so there wasn’t the question of whether this should be musicalized. It is clear that Disney intended for this to eventually move to the stage with the structure of the story and songs. The larger question of whether this needed to be on the stage is a different one: is it making an important point or message that isn’t being made elsewhere, or is this a profit calculation. I do think this falls into the latter category — this isn’t a Dear Evan HansenCome From Away, or Hamilton. It is clearly motivated by profit and parents, as evidenced by the length of its sit-down run at the Pantages.

That, by the way, doesn’t make this a bad musical. It is just not one of lasting social importance. But it is revolutionary, in its own way, for a Disney musical. You have princesses wearing pants, for example. But more importantly, you have a princess story where the goal is NOT the princess getting the prince. In fact, the prince is a cad. The true love in this story is the one between the sisters. It is that “true loves kiss” that moves the story forward (and sorry for the spoiler if you haven’t seen the movie). There are some who believe that this story even has a lesbian subtext. I don’t see that — neither sister seems to express a strong sexual desire towards anyone, so this could be asexual at best. But it is a strong story based on the sibling bond, and that’s something you don’t see in Disney that often. That could be one reason why shows like Frozen and Wicked have such a strong following from young women: they center on relationships between women that are/love each other as sisters, and that aren’t centered around the men on the periphery. That’s a message of female empowerment, something that is decidedly not the Disney of Yore.

The stage production is also a technical marvel. First and foremost is the puppetry. There are two primary puppets: Sven (the reindeer) and Olaf (the snowman). Sven is marvelous, with no real hint that there is a human actor inside. Realistic movements, playful, believable. Not at all a cartoon. Olaf, on the other hand, is intentionally cartoonish. You can see the human moving him behind him. But the attachments are such that Olaf really comes to life, and is an equally believable characters. Second and, umm, duomost, is the magic. This is a combination of projection, LED manipulation, stage magic, flying effects. They create Arendale, but more importantly, they create the ice effects and the magical ice palace. They create the magic costume transformations. This magic will make this production memorable for the youth in attendance, and may go a long way to creating lifetime theatre lovers. That’s the good thing. What’s bad? Think regional and smaller productions of this. This will be licensed at some point, and there will be regional and smaller productions of this. How will they reproduce the puppetry and stage magic, within limited budgets? That remains to be seen. Hopefully, the Disney juggernaut has planned ahead for those situations. I’m curious how the productions of Frozen Jr. handle this?

The songs are generally those of the movie, with some substitutions based on the changes in the story — primarily involving how the hidden folk that raised Kristof are presented and integrated in the story. More notably, in terms of music, this is NOT the production that is on Broadway. A new song has been integrated into Act II: “I Can’t Lose You”, which does a great job of showing and emphasizing the sisterly bond between Anna and Elsa. This helps center the story, and foreshadows the conclusion much better. This is as good a place as any to note that the music and lyrics are by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, with a book by Jennifer Lee, who also wrote the Disney animated film, which was directed by Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.

Under the direction of Michael Grandage, aided by Adrian Sarple Associate Director, the cast does a great job of bringing life to their characters and making them much more than cartoons. They seem to be having a lot of fun with these roles. The director also did a great job of keeping the story moving and presenting it in a way that is entertaining to the clear audience and keeps them entranced. This is especially true with his use of the younger characters, who have to entertain while the required story exposition and setup occurs.

The performances were strong. In the lead positions at our show were Caelan Creaser (FB) as Elsa and Caroline Innerbichler (FB) as Anna. Creaser was the understudy for the role, stepping in for Caroline Bowman (⭐FB, FB). Creaser did a great job with a wonderful voice and movement, and a personality that suited the character. I phrase it that way because Elsa, as a character is an Ice Princess — she is an embodiment of a frozen personality, cold and hiding any warmth inside. Creaser did that well, only showing the required moments of warmth when interacting with her sister. Innerbichler, as the warmer sister Anna, was remarkable. Warm and playful and delightful and (dare I say it) cute and exuding joy. Innerbichler captured that all, as well as playing well with both Hans and Kristof, in addition to her sister. Top that off with a wonderful singing voice.

Beyond the princesses, the other part of the main character group are the characters that travel with Anna to find Elsa: Kristof, Sven the Reindeer, and Olaf the Snowman. At our performance, these characters were brought to life by Mason Reeves (FBKristof, Evan Strand (⭐FBSven, and F. Michael Haynie (FB) Olaf. Due to the physical demands of the role, Even gets the Sunday evening we saw (as well as Wed, Thus matinee, Fri, Sat matinee); Collin Baja gets the other performances. This is good because I got to learn about Evan on his recent West of Broadway podcast interview; Mason Reeves also has an interview on the same podcast. All of these folks were particular strong — especially when you consider their youth. Reeves, IIRC, is a rising senior at University of Michigan. He does a wonderful job with Kristof, bringing loads of personality of fun, as well as a strong singing voice to the character. You don’t get to see anything of Strand beneath the puppet, but he does a great job of bringing the puppet to life and imbuing it with a personality and a character and believability. Haynie’s Olaf is more cartoonish, but he has loads of fun with the character which is transmitted to the audience.

In the second tier are some notable recurring actors. The cutest ones of the bunch are (again, at our performance) Arwen Monzon-Sanders Young Anna W, Th-Mat, Fri, Sat-Mat, Sun-Eve and Jaiden Klein Young Elsa W, Th-Mat, Fri, Sat-Mat, Sun-Eve. They alternate with Stella R. Cobb Young Anna T, W-Mat, Th, Sat-Eve, Sun-Mat and Alyssa Kim Young Elsa T, W-Mat, Th, Sat-Eve, Sun-Mat. Monzon-Sanders (and presumably Cobb) also have notable roles in the ensemble for “Fixer Upper”. These young girls were so cute and playful, especially Monzon-Sanders. They just seemed to be loving their time in front of the audience. They sing and move well, and are just fun to watch. Further, I’m sure that their presence makes the show have a stronger connection to the children in the audience.

The other main characters are perhaps the villains of the story: Austin Colby (FB) Hans of the Southern Isles and Jeremy Morse (FB) Weselton.  Colby, who is in real life married to the actress that normally plays Elsa, does a wonderful duplicitous job of being the charmer that Anna falls in love with, and later the cad that refuses her “loves true kiss” and leaves her to freeze to death. His is strong at capturing the duality of the character. Morse’s character, on the other hand, is much more comically drawn, along the lines of a Hedley Lamarr in Blazing Saddles. But Morse captures the aspect of that character well.

The remainder of the cast serves as the ensemble, with a few folks moving up to featured positions for a moment or two. Note that, due to Caelan Creaser (FB)’s move to Elsa for our show, swing Natalie Wisdom swung into the ensemble and into the featured role of the head handmaiden. The ensemble at our show consisted of the following folk (featured roles noted): C. K. Edwards (FB); Michael Everett (FB); Berklea Going; Michael Allan Haggerty (⭐FB, FB); Tyler Jimenez Pabbie; Hannah Jewel Kohn (FB); Marina Kondo (FB) Queen Iduna; Nika Lindsay (FB); Tatyana Lubov (FB); Adrianna Rose Lyons (⭐FB, FB); Kelly Methven (⭐FB, FB); Michael Milkanin (FB) Bishop, Oaken; Kyle Lamar Mitchell (FB) King Agnarr; Naomi Rodgers (FB); Daniel Switzer (⭐FB, FB); Zach Trimmer (FB); Brit West (FB) Bulda; and Natalie Wisdom (FB) Head Handmaiden.

Other swings were: Dustin Layton (FB), Ralph Meitzler (FB), and Jessie Peltier (FB). Natalie Wisdom (FB) is also a swing, but swung into the ensemble for this performance.

On-stage movement was choreographed by Rob Ashford; aided by Sarah O’Gleby (FB) and Charlie Williams (FB) Associate Choreographers. In general, it was enjoyable, but not that much of the choreography sticks out in the mind a week after the performance … except for two numbers. The “Hygge” number was cute for its well-placed use of body-suits and humor, and the “Fixer Upper” number also had memorable and cute movement from the ensemble. Supporting the movement was Dustin Layton (FB) Dance Captain and Jessie Peltier (FB) Assistant Dance Captain and Fight Captain.

The music was under the direction of Faith Seetoo (FB) Music Director, Conductor. The Frozen orchestra consisted of (🌴 indicates local): Cathy Venable (FB) Assoc. Conductor; Nancy Whelan (FB) Keyboard 1; Josh Cullen (FB) Keyboard 2; 🌴 Jeff Driskill (FB) Flute / Piccolo / Clarinet / Alto Sax / Soprano Sax; 🌴 Richard Mitchell Oboe / English Horn / Flute / Clarinet / Tenor Sax; 🌴 John Fumo (FB) and Aaron Smith (FB) Trumpet / Flugelhorn; 🌴 Charlie Morillas (FB) Trombone; 🌴 Laura Brenes (FB) French Horn; 🌴 Dan Lutz (FB) Bass / Electric Bass; 🌴 Chris Jago (FB) Drums / Percussion. Other music support: Michael Keller and Michael Aarons Music Coordinators; Anixter Rice Music Service (FB) Music Preparation; 🌴 Eric Heinly (FB) Orchestra Contractor; Dave Metzger Orchestrations; Chris Montan Executive Music Producer; and Stephen Oremus Music Supervision and Arrangements. In general, the music was strong, although I feel for the musicians having to deal with all of that theatrical fog rolling into the pit.

Finally, we turn to the production and creative side. I’ve already commented on the artistry of Michael Curry‘s puppet design for Sven and Olaf. Also worthy of mention is Christopher Oram‘s Scenic and Costume Design work in establishing the kingdom and its environs in an effective way for the tour, and for creating the beautiful costumes. This combined with the work of Natasha Katz Lighting Design, Finn Ross Video Design, and Jeremy Chernick Special Effects Design to create the stage magic that makes everything work and astonish the audience. Additional creative and production credits: Peter Hylenski Sound Design; David Brian Brown Hair Design; Anne Ford-Coates (FBMakeup Design; David Chase Additional Dance Arranger; Christoph Buskies Electronic Music Programming; Telsey + Company Casting; Aurora Productions Production Management; Clifford Schwartz (FB) Senior Production Supervisor; Lisa Dawn Cave Production Supervisor; Melissa Chacón Production Stage Manager; Patricia L. Grabb Stage Manager; Theron Alexander Assistant Stage Manager; Brae Singleton Assistant Stage Manager; and Neuro Tour Physical Therapy. This was a production of Disney Theatrical Productions.

Frozen continues at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) through February 2. Tickets are available through the Pantages box office; discount tickets are sold out in Goldstar, but may be available through TodayTix.

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Ob. Disclaimer: I am not a trained theatre (or music) critic; I am, however, a regular theatre and music audience member. I’ve been attending live theatre and concerts in Los Angeles since 1972; I’ve been writing up my thoughts on theatre (and the shows I see) since 2004. I do not have theatre training (I’m a computer security specialist), but have learned a lot about theatre over my many years of attending theatre and talking to talented professionals. I pay for all my tickets unless otherwise noted (or I’ll make a donation to the theatre, in lieu of payment). I am not compensated by anyone for doing these writeups in any way, shape, or form. I currently subscribe at 5 Star Theatricals (FB), the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Actors Co-op (FB),  the Soraya/VPAC (FB), and the Musical Theatre Guild (FB). Through my theatre attendance I have made friends with cast, crew, and producers, but I do strive to not let those relationships color my writing (with one exception: when writing up children’s production, I focus on the positive — one gains nothing except bad karma by raking a child over the coals). I believe in telling you about the shows I see to help you form your opinion; it is up to you to determine the weight you give my writeups.

Upcoming Shows:

Tomorrow brings our last production for January: Cirque Éloize at  the Soraya/VPAC (FB).

Things heat up in February, with The Last Ship (with Sting) at the Ahmanson Theatre the first weekend. The second weekend brings West Adams at Skylight Theatre (FB) on Saturday, and the $5 Shakespeare Company from The Sixth Act (FB) at Theatre 68 on Sunday. The third weekend brings A Body of Water at Actors Co-op (FB) and It Shoulda Been You at Musical Theatre Guild (FB). To top all of that, the fourth weekend brings  The Simon and Garfunkel Story at the Hollywood Pantages (FB), Escape to Margaritaville at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB), and Step Afrika at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the fourth weekend. Yes, that is the Pantages and the Dolby the same day — that’s what I get for not entering season tickets on my calendar before ticketing a bonus show. The last weekend is open, but I’ll probably find some theatre in Madison WI when I’m out there; alas, I’ll be missing both Nefesh Mountain at Temple Israel of Hollywood and Tom Paxton and the Don Juans at McCabes.

March starts with Passion at Boston Court (FB) the first weekend. The 2nd weekend brings the MRJ Man of the Year dinner (and possibly The Wild Party at Morgan Wixson). The 3rd brings Morris’ Room at Actors Co-op (FB) ; and the last weekend brings Spongebob Squarepants at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB) and the MoTAS/TBH Seder. April is similarly busy: the 1st weekend is Mamma Mia at 5 Star Theatricals (FB); the 2nd is during Pesach and is open (but has Count Basie at the Soraya/VPAC (FB) the Thursday before); the 3rd is Once on This Island at the Ahmanson Theatre; the last is Hamilton at the Hollywood Pantages (FB) (and possibly Hands on a Hardbody at the Charles Stewart Howard Playhouse (FB)), and the first weekend of May is Mean Girls at the Dolby Theatre/Broadway in LA (FB)

As always, I’m keeping my eyes open for interesting productions mentioned on sites such as Better-LemonsMusicals in LA@ This StageFootlights, as well as productions I see on GoldstarLA Stage TixPlays411 or that are sent to me by publicists or the venues themselves. Want to know how to attend lots of live stuff affordably? Take a look at my post on How to attend Live Theatre on a Budget. Want to learn about all the great theatre in Southern California? Read my post on how Los Angeles (and its environs) is the best area for theatre in the Country!

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