Review: FROZEN at Det Norske Teatret

Not melted by first non-replica production of "Frozen"

By: Nov. 16, 2023
Review: FROZEN at Det Norske Teatret

Review: FROZEN at Det Norske Teatret This spectacular musical centered around separated sisters, a frosty realm, and uncontrolled mystical abilities, made its way to a frosty Norwegian town called Oslo on the fourteenth of October, after running on Broadway for nearly two years before closing due to the pandemic, and the West End (where it is still running). The English production of ‘Frozen’ I attended last year was an overwhelming spectacle with more heart, depth and darkness than the film. I sadly felt the huge focus on the fact that the tale is grounded in several Nordic legacies got center stage, while the drama and more importantly the heart of the show got lost in the snow.

Back in 2018 during a musical theater panel Erik Ulfsby, who is presently the managing director, said that terms like “Broadway” and “West End” are dirty words in the wings of this theater. They aim to present musicals with a totally different look and feel. Well... those words rang through when I saw the show earlier this week. But a little more “Broadway magic” was just what this show could have needed.

Det Norske Teatret was permitted to produce the first non-replica production, a permission that in hindsight may not have been the wisest, in my opinion. The transition from a massively successful animated film to a thriving stage production isn't guaranteed, even with Disney's substantial financial backing, but while I am sure this production had a huge budget the end result didn’t feel like it, and while I’m all for artistic freedom, when you get the rights to produce a Disney musical it entitles more than just that Olaf looks the same. Too much of the visual splendor has disappeared. And while the West End cast was 32 people strong, here it is reduced to 22 and it is really evident. It feels like half the residents of Arendelle went vacationing. With that said, there is huge talent on stage, and that is the shows saving grace...

Review: FROZEN at Det Norske Teatret

Memorable performances

In fact, I will go as far as saying that Mimmi Tamba’s rendition of “Let it go” is one of the best I have heard. She is so in control of her voice it feels like just a breeze. And she personifies Elsa through and through. She confronts Elsa's distress, anger, and solitude with a genuine approach, imbuing the entire experience with a more mature emotional journey.

Ina Svenningdal’s Anna is the loveable goofball sister Anna, and she is very much command of her part, and while the score calls for more of a belter than is inherent in her vocal register, it was seldom noticeable. I enjoyed the softness her voice gave the part. Performance wise she is the glue of the show and that is what holds it together, and her presence is always welcomed.

Vegard Bjørsmo’s Kristoffer took a little time to win me over. In the beginning his performance was a little too stale and introverted for my taste, but when he and Anna get to share the spotlight this changed, and by the end I really enjoyed his performance and he proved that he is indeed more than just a good voice.

Fresh out of The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art comes Mathias Augestad Ambjør as Olaf. And He was a big success with children and grownups alike. He incorporates both comical talent and a fizzy personality into the part, and steals most of the scenes he is in.
 

Review: FROZEN at Det Norske Teatret

Likewise, Mathias Luppichini’s Hans was very much what the part entitles, the lovable nerd turned villain at the end (spoilers), and he dominated both facades. His voice is strong and he had very good chemistry with Anna. Some of the ensemble members deserve special mention. Both Jan-Christian "Janki" Horntvedt’s Pabbie (What a voice!) and Julie Støp Husby’s Bulda present outstanding moments during the scenes with the mountain people (What happend to the trolls?).

The look of the show
Now for less successful aspects. The visual Disney magic has been discarded. In its place we get quite a lot of air gun explosions of snow every time something magical is supposed to happen. We also get huge ice mountains/sculpts that can move around and form various settings, but after a while they just feel uncreative and just a way to avoid making actual varied set pieces such Elsa's castle. The most impressive sets are the interior of the castle in Arendelle, but it is sadly not on stage for long before the icebergs arrive. The costumes also feel like the budget was cut midway through, some dresses look good, while others are atrocious.

Review: FROZEN at Det Norske Teatret

Magic done on the cheap

In the original production onstage technology included lighting effects for Elsa's magic, as well as such adaptations as a full-body costume to represent the reindeer Sven, with a ballet dancer inside holding stilts in his hands and walking on tiptoe; While here it is merely an actor with an average reindeer horns on a hairband and a couple of sticks to symbolize the front legs. It's rather underwhelming, and from what I could sense from the younger audience members around me, they were also let down by the lack of effort to capture the character they all remember fondly from the movie.

While I had high hopes for director Gísli Örn Garðarsson after being hugely impressed by his production of Romeo and Juliet at the Young Vic in London many years ago, I was sadly disappointed with his efforts in Frozen. His direction of the actors isn't the real issue, but he never uses the music in his directional choices. There are moment's where the music practically screams for use of movement and quips where the actors are mostly passive. It is really evident in "Love is an Open Door" where the most creative Hans and Anna do is some sort of hide and seek with stuffed animals. So, in short when presenting a musical the actors should respond to the music and not treat it as it is an annoyance.


In conclusion
The dozen or so new songs penned by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, intended to complement the seven from the movie, often come across as overly tailored to their specific moments. Consequently, while some are lovely in one or two instances, they feel somewhat mismatched. The strange creative choices permeate the entire production. Especially in the direction, stage design, costumes and the special effects. Unfortunately, none of these special effects prove particularly impactful, serving mainly to remind the audience of the inherent challenges in translating certain elements to the stage. The most successful attempt is also the simplest: a breathtaking wall of snow blown out over the audience during the act one finale. That moment gave me chills, but after that I was sadly left underwhelmed, and even impactful performances from the cast could not rectify that for me.


Review: FROZEN at Det Norske Teatret

Review: FROZEN at Det Norske Teatret

Review: FROZEN at Det Norske Teatret

Review: FROZEN at Det Norske Teatret

Review: FROZEN at Det Norske Teatret


Music and lyrics: Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez
Book: Jennifer Lee
Translation: Runar Gudnason
Director: Gísli Örn Garðarsson
Stage Design: Börkur Jónsson
Musical Director and orchestrations for Det Norske Teatret: Svenn Erik Kristoffersen
Costume design: Christina Lovery
Choreography: Belinda Braza
Lighting design: Torkel Skjærven
Sound design: Morten Alexander Jorsett

Cast:
Mimmi Tamba as Elsa
Ina Svenningdal as Anna
Julie Moe Sandø as Elsa
Tiril Heide-Steen as Anna
Mathias Augestad Ambjør as Olaf
Vegard Bjørsmo as Kristoffer
Mathias Luppichini as Hans
Kaia Varjord as Svein, ensemble
Sisi Sumbundu as Queen Idun, ensemble
Joakim H. Ousdal som King Agnar, ensemble
Jan-Christian "Janki" Horntvedt as Pabbie, ensemble
Julie Støp Husby as Bulda, ensemble
Niklas Gundersen as Kramkaren Eika, ensemble
Petter Winther as Ekle, ensemble
Hilde Olausson as servant girl, ensemble
Martha Standal as servant girl, ensemble
Ellen Birgitte Winther as servant girl, ensemble
Øyvin Berven as Bishop, ensemble
Benjamin Hiley as Lakei, ensemble
Elise Berg-Hansen ensemble
Thelma Advocaat as Young Anna
India Johanna Mydske as Young Anna
Savannah Isabelle von Nyegaard Meidell-Clausen as Young Anna
Ester Guadalupe Støten Vargas as Young Elsa
Iben Nerland MacDonald som as Young Elsa
Noela Rose Skalstad as Young Elsa




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