The snowman, the reindeer, the icy palace materializing out of frosty air — you’ll have to conjure up a ticket before you can lay eyes on those bits of stage magic. For now, whet your Frozen appetite with EW’s official first look at the principal foursome who will bring the characters from Disney’s Oscar-winning film to life on Broadway.
Patti Murin, Caissie Levy, Jelani Alladin, and John Riddle star as Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Hans in the stage adaptation of Disney’s 2013 double-princess feature, the latest animated title to receive the stage treatment from Disney Theatrical Productions. The musical adaptation will test the (potentially solid) waters with a try-out in Denver from Aug. 17 through Oct. 1, followed thereafter by a Broadway arrival in February 2018.
Set in the wintry, Norwegian-inspired kingdom of Arendelle, Frozen takes its stage cues from both the well-known tenets of the film and the minds of its all-star creative team, which includes Tony-winning director Michael Grandage, choreographer Rob Ashford, and scenic/costume designer Christopher Oram.
“The interesting thing about a movie is that it’s going to be exactly the same tomorrow night, whereas a staged piece is absolutely not, and that’s our greatest asset,” says Grandage, the celebrated British director and namesake of The Michael Grandage Company. “I’m not particularly interested in slavishly replicating a movie onstage, because it won’t challenge anybody. We’ve got so many assets at our disposal where we can take that whole experience further. We can present things in new ways. We’ve got a bigger narrative arc. We’ve got more songs than the movie, and an opportunity to develop storylines in greater depth. But the thing we can do most of all is have real, live, breathing, beating hearts in front of people in the dark. I needed a cast where it wasn’t just going to be people who brilliantly pumped out some famous numbers, because I knew we had a bigger book and a bigger arc to explore and, in places, a really highly emotional journey.”
Among the movie’s many merits (not the least of which is the legacy of — and now expectations for — its record-smashing showstopper “Let It Go”), Frozen was lauded in its theatrical release for painting new lines of emotionality onto the traditional Disney princess realm; on stage, the film’s protagonist sisters, driven apart by the eldest’s uncontrollable cryogenic powers, are played by longtime Broadway ingénues Murin and Levy, who hope to imbue the show with that same sororal sentiment.
“The camaraderie that’s needed between Patti and Caissie, in terms of what goes on onstage, is amplified by the fact that those two, in life and in their work, seem to be very genuinely bonded together,” says Grandage. “They take it seriously, in a good way. They want to present Anna and Elsa in a very beautiful, very meaningful way, and watching that develop in rehearsal has been quite profoundly moving to me because the point about this story is that they get pulled apart early on. Now, how close [the actresses] have become is mirroring what they need to do in the piece, which has been very exciting to me as a director. Similarly, the journey we’re going on with John Riddle as Hans is really interesting because, spoiler alert, we’ve got to reinvent the film’s big revelation for the stage…and then separately to that, we’re creating a very, very important relationship between Kristoff and Sven, working with the way puppets interact and the people in them.”
Sven, played with a prosthetic assist by the dancer Andrew Pirozzi, joins Olaf (Greg Hildreth) in representing the film’s more overtly difficult visual challenges for stage adaptation. But just as Beauty and the Beast made dining utensils tap and The Lion King brought the savannah to Times Square, Frozen has spent its share of time and resources to make the film’s designs and illusions seamless for an audience. Grandage promises surprises even beyond the expected beats: “There are a number of immediate problems to solve when putting something like Frozen on stage, but for every known ‘big deal’ in the narrative, we’ve come up with at least one to match that is going to be new for an audience.”
Beyond the new book and expanded score by the film’s Oscar-winning team of Jennifer Lee, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, and Robert Lopez, the onus of reinvention also applies in large part to Oram, Grandage’s partner and long-time creative collaborator, who has taken on dual roles as Frozen’s scenic and costume designer. His style was influenced by a love of sci-fi and Disney animated movies, coupled with a research trip to Norway that exposed him to the timber-based culture’s painterly, rosemaled design aesthetic and the region’s panoramas, all of which have wiggled their way into Frozen in major and miniature ways.
“When you start researching yourself, you realize you’re stumbling across the same images they found when they were making the movie. My hope is that we’ve taken it in another direction, which I hope is a parallel one where people say, ‘Oh, yes, that’s the dress,’ but now it’s on a real body, behaving in a real way,” says Oram. “The film had an actual costume designer… so there was more detail for us to work with here, but we’re ultimately respecting what it is and allowing an audience to then be able to identify the cast. At no point does someone go, ‘You know what? Let’s put Elsa in black. That’ll probably look good, won’t it?’ She’s going to be in a beaded dress and it’s going to be pale blue and it’s going to look absolutely beautiful.”
As evidenced by the first look at the foursome, the gentlemen possess just as dashing fashion choices. “You want people to believe in it, to get that balance between seeing Hans in a very fine, beautifully embroidered jacket and Kristoff in his big chunky mountain gear,” says Oram, whose designs must contend with practical reveals and copious quick changes for the 40-strong cast populating the kingdom of Arendelle and its surrounding mountains. “The thing is, they’re wearing big, heavy, warm clothes, and the one thing it is not on stage is freezing cold. That’s dramatic irony for you.”
Ultimately, based on a recent tabulation before previews began in Denver, Oram’s department had constructed a whopping 363 costumes based on 172 individual designs. “Is that the number? That’s fine by me,” he laughs. “I never stop to count. We’re never going to have as many Swarovski crystals as Aladdin, and we’ve just got to live with that.” Unless Elsa has something to say about it.