New York City Theater
St. James Theater
At the opening of Act II of “Frozen,” the stillborn stage version of the hit Disney film, a mountain trader named Oaken sings “Hygge,” a Danish term roughly translated as “cozy” and “comfortable.” Oaken’s outdoor souvenir shop is hard by a sauna, from which emerges a chorus of male and female health nuts. All declare that “even at this altitude / we keep a happy attitude.” What follows is a conga line and dance the under-dressed chorus performs with fronds tantalizingly covering their privates and backsides.
It’s a cockeyed, slaphappy, hilarious number, more appropriate for “Spamalot” or “Xanadu.” It’s certainly incongruous in the fairy tale that is “Frozen.” But boy is it welcome.
The show, with music and lyrics by Oscar winners Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (music and lyrics) and Jennifer Lee (book) and directed by British award-winner Michael Grandage, has a distinguished pedigree. The creators have what would seem to be a surefire product on which to build.
But build they do not. Instead, they turn an entertaining animated feature into a throwback operetta like “The Student Prince” or “The Red Mill.” Instead of deepening themes of female solidarity, we get clichés like a maypole dance.
Loosely based on “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Anderson, “Frozen” is a cautionary tale of sisterly love. Elsa, the snow queen with an uncanny ability to turn anything she touches into ice, decides to become a hermit in order not to infect any more people with numbing cold. Retreating to a mountain castle, she’s sought by Anna, her loyal, loving sibling.
In the mix are ambitious Prince Hans (a stalwart John Riddle); empathetic, helpful Kristoff (a warm and winning Jelani Alladin); a jokey puppet snowman, Olaf, handled by the delightful Greg Hildreth; and the villainous Weselton (Robert Creighton in full mean mode). The latter’s remark, “Nothing good can come from magic, especially from a woman” did not, surprisingly, evoke audience boos.
Caissie Levy is a lovely Anna, with a voice to match. Her “Let it Go” power ballad closes the first act with brio. As Elsa, Patti Muri is wonderfully bouncy, a vessel for what little actual humor the evening contains. Also worthy is Olivia Phillip as some sort of feral creature.
Good songs help: in addition to the justly famous Oscar winner, “Let it Go,” there’s “For the First Time in Forever” and “True Love.” The gorgeous costumes and spectacular scenery are both by Christopher Oram, while Natasha Katz’s lighting is dazzling as are Finn Ross’ projections.
But Rob Ashford choreographs as if his mind were elsewhere. Michael Grandage’s heavy-handed direction proves, once again, that Brits should not direct American musicals. Take Sven, the reindeer, rendered by a limber Andrew Pirozzi on all fours in a fuzzy costume. The poor creature wanders aimlessly about the stage, perhaps seeking the exit. And who can blame him?
--David A. Rosenberg
March 29, 2018