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Review: Disney's FROZEN THE MUSICAL Finally Thaws at OC's Segerstrom Center

Review: Disney's FROZEN THE MUSICAL Finally Thaws at OC's Segerstrom Center

The hit animated film comes to life on stage with cheeky jokes, diva belting, and dazzling special effects

Much like every other show on the planet, Disney's flashy, big-budget Broadway stage adaptation of its animated 2013 box office hit FROZEN was, sadly, sidelined by the pandemic, forcing both its Broadway and first national tour productions to shutter for an undetermined amount of time.

But fortunately, during late Fall of 2019, I was able to catch the traveling show on one of its initial tour stops at the Pantages Theatre in nearby Hollywood, blissfully unaware of what was about to happen to the world at large months later. At that point, Orange County had yet to even be announced as an official tour stop for the show, so, naturally---as a rabid Disney fan---I wanted to be able to experience the latest Disney Theatrical enterprise for myself in all of its magical glory as soon as it was closer to home than New York.

There in my hastily-purchased orchestra seat at the Pantages---surrounded by a mixed crowd of Disney nerds, Broadway fans, and lots of ecstatic, princess-cosplaying kids and their families---I was pleasantly surprised by the spectacle I witnessed.

I smiled. I wowed. I chuckled. I even got slightly teary-eyed during the show-stopping first act finalé.

Fast forward to February 2023 and the relaunched FROZEN national tour has finally made its way back to Southern California. Who knew it would be another 3+ years before the show would finally recreate the fictional European village of Arendelle right here in the OC? Now being performed nightly at Costa Mesa's Segerstrom Center for the Arts through February 19, would the show hold up from what I saw in Los Angeles many winters ago, or has the passage of time diminished its magical properties?

Review: Disney's FROZEN THE MUSICAL Finally Thaws at OC's Segerstrom Center
The Company of FROZEN National Tour. Photo by Deen Van Meer.

Well, I'm happy to report back that the stage musical adaptation---featuring an expanded songbook from the film's original Academy Award-winning songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and a book by eventual Disney Animation Studios' Chief Creative Officer Jennifer Lee---is, in its current state, still as enchanting as ever.

An inspired and empowered update of Hans Christian Andersen's classic fairy tale The Snow Queen, Disney's FROZEN---both on film and, now, on stage---reframes the story around the icy (no pun intended), fractured relationship between two very strong-minded sisters of royalty, specifically the tensions inadvertently caused by the older sibling's possession of an uncontrollable magic power that might be dangerous to herself and to others. Ultimately, the musical shows their journey of accepting (and celebrating) their differences.

Filled with the expected eye-popping visuals and theatrical magic synonymous with big-budget Disney stage shows, FROZEN---under the precision-focused direction of Michael Grandage and featuring incredible choreography from Rob Ashford---is an effects-heavy, grandiose production, purposely designed not only to evoke the film with a direct familiarity, but to also pretty much one-up that source material for a live audience of transfixed kids and spectacle-loving adults that want to be wowed and get their money's worth, respectively.

With its dazzling, seemingly boundless LED walls of digitally-painted animations that practically dance and interact with all the live, extremely talented on-stage actors for two entertaining hours, the show doesn't waste any time with subtlety.

And though, yes, an even shorter, more direct translation of FROZEN did first exist at the Hyperion Theatre at Disney's California Adventure theme park, this expansive and, dare I say, even more ambitious Broadway stage adaptation feels like an appropriate hybrid of old and new---and is certainly what one might expect from a Disney-backed theatrical presentation that's not in a theme park or a cruise ship.

Review: Disney's FROZEN THE MUSICAL Finally Thaws at OC's Segerstrom Center
The Company of FROZEN National Tour. Photo by Deen Van Meer.

While not a completely flawless show---nor is it even the best show amongst the Disney slate of film-to-stage adaptations---FROZEN is still, for the most part, a creative and entertaining triumph of clever innovation and progressive storytelling, retaining much of the same enjoyable touchstones that delighted fans of its original source material, but has now here been beautifully recreated and then, yes, enhanced for the stage.

Sure... there are awkwardly staged vignettes here and there, and some of the newer songs feel more like filler than others. But, overall, there's lots to love about the stage version of FROZEN.

Much of the show's spectacular visual wow factor can certainly be attributed to the show's top-notch creative team which includes sets and costumes designer Christopher Oram (love those ice shards!), lighting designer Natasha Katz, video designer Finn Ross (gosh, those magical animations really sell it), special effects designer Jeremy Chernick (bed sparkles!), and puppet designer Michael Curry (Sven and Olaf are, as expected, memorable highlights).

Sound-wise, musical director Faith Seetoo leads a grand-sounding orchestra that utilizes full-bodied orchestrations from Dave Metzger, David Chase, and Stephen Oremus that pump up the show's already memorable score from the film.

And with just eight songs featured in the original film, the Lopez's expanded soundtrack for the stage version is a welcome augmentation, adding extra musicality to the narrative. And, sure, like I said... a few of the added songs do feel more like filler than others, but most of the songs do complement the already existing few lifted directly from the film, such as the hilarious "Hygge" which opens the second act, as well as Elsa's "Monster" and "Dangerous to Dream," both of which speak volumes of Elsa's insecurities.

One thing is for certain: lots of young'ins in attendance---many of whom are seeing a Broadway musical for the first time---will be absolutely mesmerized.

Similar to the hit film that inspires it, FROZEN the stage musical also tells the tale of two royal sisters: older sister Elsa (the amazing, perfectly-cast Caroline Bowman), who is blessed---or, perhaps, cursed---with a mysterious magical power that allows her to freeze anything around her; and her younger sister Anna (the spunky Lauren Nicole Chapman), a spirited, extroverted young woman with a penchant for spontaneity and adventure. They are the daughters of the kind-hearted and just King Agnarr (Kyle Lamar Mitchell) and Queen Iduna (Belinda Alynn) who rule over the kingdom of Arendelle.

Though the sibling princesses were once closer in their much younger days, they grow up purposely estranged, a solution that a younger Elsa (played by Sydney Elise Russell on Press night) and her cautious parents agree to follow after a seemingly innocent session of snowy child's play results in Elsa accidentally injuring her younger sister Anna (played by Aria Kane on Press night) with her powers.

And despite their parents' supernatural forest friends magically healing young Anna's near fatal injuries---while also wiping out Anna's memories of the accident at the same time---Elsa and her parents couldn't find an alternative solution to isolating the siblings from one another. Elsa's unremovable powers, she is led to believe, are just too unpredictable and, perhaps, too dangerous for public knowledge or exposure.

Soon the King and Queen set off on a quest to find a "cure" for their daughter, but are tragically lost at sea during a powerful storm, leaving young Anna and Elsa orphaned.

Despite this shared loss, Elsa goes on to continue to shut out her little sister right up through their adulthood, despite Anna's continued confusion and her pleas to have some kind of a relationship with her big sister.

"Conceal, don't feel" is the instilled mantra Elsa follows.

Many years later, complications finally arrive on the day of Elsa's official coronation as the Queen of all Arendelle. Elsa---still feeling nervous about the townsfolk learning about her secret power---is hopeful that the celebratory event at least spurs a reconnection with her younger sister.

Anna, for her part, begins the day giddy with excitement because the kingdom is finally opening up the castle gates to the public after a long period of isolation. The ceremony goes on without a hitch, that is until Anna later announces to her sister that she intends to marry the handsome Prince Hans of the Southern Isles (the dashing Will Savarese) just a few mere hours after meeting each other for the first time earlier that day!

Donning her overprotective big sister hat (er, crown, actually), Elsa defiantly forbids the courtship, angering Anna so much that she begins to question Elsa about her audacious display of authority towards her---when her big sister has been quite absent all these years in Anna's life.

Flustered by Anna's frustration, Elsa accidentally reveals her powers in a very big way, inciting fear amongst the villagers and giving rise to the already suspicious Duke of Weselton (Evan Duff) who brandishes her as a monster that must be stopped.

Elsa, feeling exposed and vilified, flees the castle in a mad rush, unaware that in her wake, her magical powers have accidentally trapped Arendelle into an eternal winter---in the middle of summer!

The very ill-prepared Anna immediately ventures off for the North Mountain to search for Elsa, knowing that her big sister is the only person who can reverse the frigid curse that has befallen the kingdom. Along the way, she re-crosses paths with cute ice merchant Kristoff (the adorkable Dominic Dorset) and his adorable reindeer Sven (played by Collin Baja on Press night) who---after some meet-cute sparring---agree to aid her search.

Later, they stumble upon a talking/walking snowman named Olaf (performed and puppeteered by the very funny Jeremy Davis), a once imagined figure Anna suddenly remembers from her childhood, who also joins their search party.

Elsewhere, high up in the mountains, the freshly empowered Elsa---no longer fearful of what others may think of her---has now fully embraced her Ice Queen persona and the powers that come with it. She tosses the clothes of her old life and magically builds a massive ice castle for herself as she sings confidently and defiantly about the cold never bothering her anyway.

Fun, slightly silly, and yet somehow laced with a few surprisingly dark undertones, FROZEN as a stage musical is more superior than most, but is also clearly a piece that could use some more tinkering and polish. Highly enjoyable as it is in its current form, parts of the show do feel like it just lumbers along just to get to the next "big" moment, which, to be fair, are pretty satisfying moments indeed.

Review: Disney's FROZEN THE MUSICAL Finally Thaws at OC's Segerstrom Center
The Company of FROZEN National Tour. Photo by Deen Van Meer.

The touring show is aided tremendously by the commitment of character---and, yes, impressive vocals---displayed by the show's extremely talented ensemble, led by its leading ladies, Bowman and Chapman, both of whom are undeniably superb actor-singers with expressive acting chops and amazing vocal ranges.

Where Bowman effortlessly exudes grace and ferocity, Chapman counters with a buoyant quirkiness and light---offering us a sort of lovely Yin and Yang that harmoniously play with and clash against each other throughout the musical. If you're hoping for some stratospheric diva belting then these siblings definitely deliver.

Bowman---last seen and heard on this stage as the title diva in EVITA---starts with a quiet vulnerability that increases in strength and regal flair with each passing moment. The moment she, well, lets it all go in "Let It Go," you can feel the electricity in the theater. Oh, man, that entire act one ending is worth the price of admission alone.

Meanwhile, Chapman revels in her character's awkwardness with aplomb, though I have to say, I'm a bit puzzled at how much more "horny" her character has been written for the stage adaptation. Chapman's dorky, almost screwball rapport with her two would-be beaus is wonderfully offbeat, with Dorset's Kristoff winning extra points for himself for some fun-to-watch interactivity with Baja's Sven, who, for his part, gives heartfelt life to his towering, otherwise puppeteered non-speaking character. Savarese is convincing as the perfect boyfriend---and so much so that when he later shows his true colors, it still feels like a surprise twist even though everyone who has seen the film knew it was coming.

Coincidentally, I found myself laughing super hard at a new joke that seems to have been freshly inserted into the scene where Savarese's Prince meets Chapman's Anna, where she describes herself as "not an heir, but a spare...but I shouldn't be complaining," an obvious cheeky nod to a recent real-life royal who wrote a book about being the "spare" to the throne.

Of course, scene-stealing Davis---so absolutely winning voicing and puppeteering Olaf---is so convincing in the role that eventually you forget there's an actor there and you just stare at this 3-foot snow figure with heaps of personality. It's a technique "borrowed" from THE LION KING that works just as well here.

Other standouts include Jack Brewer's amusing turn as Oaken, the goofy proprietor of Wandering Oaken's Trading Post and Sauna; Duff's over-the-top, super extra Duke of Weselton; and Tyler Jimenez's Grand Pabbie---whose distracting abs, tall frame, and Tarzan-like outfit make you forget that the same character in the movie, by contrast, is seen as a round, super short, round-bodied troll. Talk about a glow up!

One of my favorite things about FROZEN---both in animation and in live theater form---is its wonderfully enlightened climactic reveal that upends the longstanding definition of what constitutes as "true love" as it has been repeatedly dramatized in these princess-centric fairy tales. I won't spoil it for those who've not seen either iteration, but it's still pretty satisfying to see it play out.

Despite some weak spots, FROZEN as a fully-staged theatrical property, for the most part, is a genuinely admirable, very solid translation from the screen to the stage. Many adults will likely love it, but many more kids will be transfixed by it.

Follow this reviewer on Twitter: @cre8iveMLQ

Performances of Disney's FROZEN - THE MUSICAL continue at Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, CA through February 19, 2023. Tickets can be purchased online at, by phone at 714-556-2787 or in person at the SCFTA box office (open daily at 10 am). Segerstrom Center for the Arts is located at 600 Town Center Drive in Costa Mesa. For tickets or more information, visit

Photo Credit: Deen Van Meer

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