Review: FROZEN at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis

Freezing the Orpheum Stage through July 2nd

By: Jun. 23, 2023
Review: FROZEN at The Orpheum Theatre Memphis
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There's a chill in the air in Memphis, and it's coming from the Orpheum Theatre. Disney's Frozen, based on the 2013 hit film, opened last night and I have never seen so many blue dresses in one place before ;) 

The film took the world by storm in 2013 and quickly overtook Toy Story 3 as the highest grossing animated film of all time, earning a whopping $1.285 billion in worldwide box office revenue. The Frozen craze launched an iconic franchise, including an animated short and a sequel in 2019. As a former Disney cast member, I had a unique experience with the franchise as well. I was working as a photographer in the Disney parks when Frozen took over the world, and was assigned to assist the new princess and queen when they decided to visit the Magic Kingdom. I saw wait times of up to five hours to meet the duo, and photographed thousands of excited children and adults, ready to meet their new heroines. Although many Disney cast members quickly got tired of hearing "Let It Go" everywhere we went, we could not deny the impact the film and franchise had on people around the world. Last night I witnessed many little girls experiencing their first night of live theatre, and it made my heart swell. But it wasn't just small children who were enchanted with the musical; I sat beside two young women, only a little younger than me, and listened to them excitedly chatter away at Intermission. Movie fans might be surprised and a little disappointed at some of the changes from the film but it most definitely has that magic that we remember and love from the film. 

Frozen centers around two royal sisters, one born with mysterious powers of ice and snow. After an accident involving her sister, Princess Elsa learns to "conceal, don't feel" and hides her powers from the world. Princess Anna hopes that after their parents' tragic death, it will bring her closer to her sister but Elsa continues to shut out the world. After she accidentally reveals her powers at her corronation, Elsa flees the kingdom, leaving Arandelle a land of eternal winter. With the help of a rugged ice seller named Kristoff, his trusty reindeer Sven, and a magical talking snowman named Olaf, Anna sets out to bring her sister home. But Elsa has learned what she can do and is reluctant to put anyone else in danger. So what will become of Arandelle and ultimately of Princess Anna, who is accidentally struck in the heart by Elsa's ice powers? Only an act of true love can thaw a frozen heart. The story strikes the emotions with themes of loneliness, sisterly love, and acceptance of one's self. 

In 2014, Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, announced that a stage adaptation of Frozen was in development. In 2015, it was confirmed that the original songwriters, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, would be working on the show and that Jennifer Lee would be writing the book. In May 2016, the musical held its first developmental lab in New York City with Betsy Wolfe as Elsa and Patti Murin as Anna. In September 2016, it was announced that Frozen was set to open on Broadway in spring 2018. The musical cost approximately 30 million to produce. Previews began at the St. James Theatre in February 2018, and officially opened on March 22, 2018. The musical took a deeper look into the princesses' backstories and was actually aimed at a more adult audience. After 825 performances, Frozen closed on March 11, 2020 due to the Covid 19 pandemic. On May 14, 2020, Disney announced that Frozen would not reopen on Broadway. Although the show did fairly well, it did not do as well as Aladdin and The Lion King. A U.S tour of the production launched in November 2019 but reopened after the pandemic in September 2021. The musical was nominated for three Tony Awards in 2018, including Best Musical but lost to The Band's Visit. 

As I mentioned earlier, the musical has changed quite a bit from the film. First off, it went much darker than people expected. In a new song that Elsa sings entitled "Monster", she seems to contemplate suicide as she reaches out to her dead parents for advice. She utlimately decides she has to stay alive to fix what she has done but you have to admit, that's pretty dark for a Disney show. 

Another difference that some people may be disappointed about (my best friend was certainly not happy) is the lack of the trolls. If you remember the fun creatures from the film, you'll know they raised Kristoff and later on sing "Fixer Upper". The musical has replaced the trolls with "The Hidden Folk", Supernatural beings from Scandinavian folklore. This change certainly adds a more mystical feel to the story. Another change related to the Hidden Folk is Elsa's magical origins. In the sequel, Frozen II, it is revealed that Elsa's and Anna's mother is a child of the Northuldra people and the film focuses on Elsa discovering the source of her magical abilities. However, the musical explores this a lot more and it is interesting that it chooses to reveal that much earlier on. 

The Orpheum Stage is no stranger to power-house voices and this show is no exception! Caroline Bowman shows off her pipes during "Dangerous to Dream" and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats because really, the number we are all waiting for is "Let It Go", which is the Act I closer. And it is worth the wait!

I know "Let It Go" is the favorite but I have to say my personal favorite of the evening was "Monster". Bowman's vocal range and emotions combined make the song a chilling yet beautiful piece. Accompanied by Prince Hans (Will Savarese) and the men, Elsa is dismayed that she might really be the thing that everyone has been calling her: a monster. 

Another favorite is "Love is an Open Door", where we see a socially-inept Princess Anna falling in "love" with Prince Hans of the Southern Isles. Will Savarese and Lauren Nicole Chapman finetune their comedic timing during this number and their chemistry makes it a fun one to watch. Of course some of our other favorites from the film are "Reindeers are Better than People" and "In Summer". Dominic Dorset portrays a sightly different Kristoff than we are used to, making him a bit more elegant and a little less awkward. I also have to commend Christopher Oram for the costume design, especially Kristoff's design. His clothing is more colorful than the film and is inspired by the Sami people. Kristoff, of course, is always accompanied by Sven and holy wow, this puppet blew me away. The realistic look (especially the eyes) of the beloved reindeer made the performance that much more captivating to watch! Our favorite little "duet" (actually a solo but shh, we won't tell Sven that we know) "Reindeers Are Better than People" is a fun albeit short ditty and we quickly fall for Kristoff's charm. 

Jeremy Davis has been wowing Frozen audiences since the pre-Broadway workshop. As a theatre major and former Disney cast member, I love watching puppetry and Olaf is a such a fun presence on stage. Davis commands the stage during the iconic "In Summer", dancing across the space just as we see Olaf do in the film. The "some people are worth melting for" moment is one to be remembered! 

As I previously mentioned, you won't see any trolls this time but the Hidden Folk are pretty spectacular to behold! Another wonderful ensemble moment (there are so many in this show!) these performers turn the space into a mythical getaway. My other favorite stand out performance is Pabbie, played by Tyler Jimenez. Such a commanding presence from his first entrance, he is the leader of the Hidden Folk and chants in Norweigian, attempting to save Anna from Elsa's magic. 

So many wonderful performances in one show! Norah Ann Nunes is absolutely adorable as Young Anna, Evan Duff plays the Duke of Weselton with just enough comedy, and Jack Brewer makes us laugh as the loveable Oaken. 

Projection and video design bring the magic to life and I guarantee you will hear squeals throughout the theatre when Elsa's magic is revealed. 

This is a wonderful way to close a wonderful season. Don't miss Frozen, playing through July 2nd. We may not be able to build snowmen but Frozen will certainly thaw any frozen heart! 


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