Review: DISNEY'S FROZEN at Orpheum

This dazzling musical has the power to change hearts and minds

By: Nov. 23, 2022
Review: DISNEY'S FROZEN at Orpheum
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San Francisco's Orpheum theater is host to Disney's Tony-nominated Frozen (now through Dec. 30), which meant that on opening night the theater also played host to a cast of hundreds of little Elsa-costumed audience members. (Who wore it best? They all did!)

With their parents in tow, they settled (maybe that's too strong a word) into their seats while the rest of us perused the Playbill, which included a note from Disney highlighting their commitment to diversity and inclusion, and a program note from Managing Director Rainier Koeners sharing BroadwaySF's commitment to help thousands of low-income residents experience Broadway, many of them for their first time (Oh, how I love this city).

The night of Disney magic began and soon everyone was transported to the Kingdom of Arendelle and the castle of Queen Iduna (Belinda Allyn), King (Kyle Lamar Mitchell) and their two little princess daughters, older sister, Elsa (Sydney Elise Russell) and her little sister Anna (Aria Kane).

Like its 2013 animated movie predecessor, Broadway's Frozen represents a turning point for the seemingly patented, damsel-in-distress, Disney princess trope (Someday my prince will come) in that the two sisters are not beholden to a man to save them. Playwright Jennifer Lee's empowering story also places an emphasis on family bonds and these two elements swirl together to bring theater-goers the triumphant tale of two strong sisters grappling with a family secret and finally coming into and embracing their own powers as young adults.

Review: DISNEY'S FROZEN at Orpheum

Caroline Bowman is nothing short of phenomenal in her title role as the grownup Elsa. As her coronation approaches, she's a bundle of nerves. Her face says it all. She's wrestling with the fear that her secret -- and as yet undisciplined -- power to make snow and ice out of thin air will get out of control in front of visiting dignitaries and guests who have no clue. Even sister Anna (Lauren Nicole Chapman is fantastic) no longer knows, having had the memory of Elsa's power erased in childhood by mystical Hidden Folk leader Pabbie (Tyler Jimenez).

Rob Ashford's choreography captures in movement the personality quirks (and yes, anxieties) of the various characters. At one point, his exquisite use of dance turns the ensemble into a Greek chorus of snowdrifts and is stagecraft at its best. Beautiful and magical sets by award-winning Christopher Oram surprise and delight. Intricately combining physical and virtual scenery, Oram's visionary work comes to life. Regally elegant, 30-foot-high castle ceilings and later a Swarovski crystal ice curtain in Elsa's ice palace where she retreats after unknowingly creating an endless winter in the kingdom are stunning. Natasha Katz's lighting design makes everything shimmer and sparkle.

Review: DISNEY'S FROZEN at Orpheum

Anna sets aside a hastily agreed to engagement to Prince Hans (Will Savarese) and embarks on a journey to find her sister and get her to come home and hopefully bring summer back. Along the way Anna meets handsome lug and ice-harvester Kristoff (Dominic Dorset) and his trusty sidekick, a puppet reindeer named Sven (created by Michael Curry and played beautifully by alternating actors Collin Baja and Dan Plehal). She orders Kristoff to be her guide and, in a twist, she saves him from falling off an ice bridge. The two encounter Olaf (Jeremy Davis), the magically come-to-life snowman that she and her sister had created as kids, and it is Olaf who leads the way to Elsa.

Multi-award-winning songwriters, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and husband, Robert Lopez, who wrote the original music for the animated movie, penned 23 new songs for the musical, including Elsa's anguished ballad Monster that has her questioning whether everyone would be better off if she was dead.

But of course, the pièce de resistance is the anthem "Let It Go," which was met with wild and sustained applause. When Anderson-Lopez and husband Robert Lopez wrote "Let It Go," there was no way for them to know that the song would resonate, not only for girls and women across the world, but also for the LGBTQ and Autism communities and really, anyone who has to hide who they are for fear of discrimination and hatred being spewed at them.

What do you do with a powerful gift that will get you called a monster by everyone around you? From her parents Elsa learned early on that her gift was a curse that she must hide ("Magic is secret... Conceal don't feel"), and she dutifully obeyed until she could no longer contain it. One wonders how her story would have changed had she been taught from the beginning how to embrace who she was instead of isolating herself in shame and confusion.

Photos Deen Van Meer and others by Matthew Murphy