BWW Review: FROZEN at the Paramount Astounds with Disney Imagineering Magic
You gotta love those Disney Imagineers. They repeatedly manage to take those beloved Disney movies and reimagine them for the stage, taking them far beyond a simple rehash with some new songs into a whole new world (yes, I know, wrong show reference). And "Frozen" currently playing at the Paramount Theatre is no exception, in fact it may be the standard by which all the others will be judged. That's not to say that the effects are all that the show has going for it. We're also gifted with some insanely talented performers and some fantastic staging and choreography that totally defrosted my cold heart, as I was ready to have a MEH evening and ended up with so much more.
Parents out there, I'm sure, are familiar with the tale of Princesses Elsa and Anna (Caroline Bowman and Caroline Innerbichler), sequestered away due to Elsa's mysterious magical ice powers. But now it's come time for Princess Elsa to take the throne so they must open up the gates to the rest of the world. Things go pretty well, including Anna falling for the dashing Prince Hans (Austin Colby), and Elsa keeping her powers under control until a moment of anger shows the kingdom what she can do and plunges them into an eternal winter. Elsa flees, Anna goes after her aided by mountain man Kristoff (Mason Reeves), his reindeer Sven (Evan Strand), and the snowman brought to life by Elsa's magic, Olaf (F. Michael Haynie), Elsa sings "Let It Go", and everyone is saved by true love (but not the true love you expect).
Parents, when you bring your kids you will be greeted by the same story they, and you, are all too familiar with including all of those wonderful songs written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (that you may not think are so wonderful anymore after hearing them on a loop for the past few years). But this is a big Broadway show, so we need more. There are more songs from the Lopezes but they're not as catchy. There are a few that almost get there like store and spa owner Oaken's (Michael Milkanin) tribute to everything wonderful, "Hygge", and Elsa's new power ballad "Monster", but none of them are quite up to the storytelling of a "Let It Go" or "Love is an Open Door". But they flesh out the time well. No, the great additions to the piece are the effects, the choreography from Rob Ashford and the people up there giving it their all.
Let's start with the effects. There were several magical moments last night that made the audience squeal and gasp with glee. There was the scenic and costume design from Christopher Oram that transformed Elsa's dress and the stage into an icy and sometimes deadly piece of art in front of our eyes. Or the outstanding lighting by Natasha Katz and effects from Jeremey Chernik and video design from Finn Ross that froze the stage as well as some of the characters. And I must mention the fantastic puppet design from Michael Curry that brought to life both Sven and Olaf in ways I couldn't imagine. And with director Michael Grandage's staging keeping it all together and flowing, you will believe the magic is real.
Then there's the choreography. If you're not familiar with the genius that is Rob Ashford, then you're in for a treat. And if you are, then you know what I'm talking about. From the grand ball to the troll dance to a chorus line of naked spa people (don't worry, it's still a family friendly Disney show and done with hilarious modesty), each number not only swept us right into the world but aided the storytelling showing off why Ashford is one of the best.
But all of this would be a spectacular rehash if it weren't for the ensemble, each and everyone one of whom is glorious beyond belief. I must begin with the youngest ones. So often, in these fairy tale shows, we have the initial flashback to the main characters as kids, but it's abandoned fairly quickly in favor of getting the principals on stage. Not here. Jaiden Klein and Arwen Monzon-Sanders (on the night I attended) as young Elsa and Anna are on hand for quite some time at the top of the show and nail this story like Broadway pros. Their energy, presence and talent started off the show perfectly and we even get to see Monzon-Sanders again later in another role and she nails that one too. These are little stars in the making. But eventually they let the adults come on stage and they did not disappoint. Innerbichler is the most delightful, quirky, borderline manic Anna and I could watch this triple threat (voice, dance and funnier than hell) for hours. She managed tremendous chemistry with everyone but especially with Bowman, making their sisterly bond unbreakable. Bowman manages to blow us all away (and not with her ice powers) and takes that iconic song and makes it her own, bringing down the house. Colby is the epitome of a stereotypical Disney Prince with his strong jawline and cheekbones that could cut you, as he makes us all swoon with his hilarious awkwardness to match Anna's, only to break our hearts in Act Two. Of course, leaving room for the real "Prince", Mason Reeves as Kristoff whose adorable nature with Anna was only matched by his fabulous voice and killer dance moves. Speaking of dance moves, Jeremy Morse as the Duke of Weasletown ... sorry, Weselton may lie but his hips certainly do not! Milkanin stops the show as the adorable Oaken. And Tyler Jimenez and Brit West as the Troll leaders Pabbie and Bulda are a delight.
Now I need to talk about the puppets. There were two performers on stage who quite skillfully kept us from seeing themselves and instead made us see the creatures they controlled. I don't envy Strand as he's trapped inside that reindeer all night, in what must be a hotter than hell, muscle contorting position, and he makes conveying this somewhat anthropomorphized beast look like child's play. And then there's Haynie. Too often with these adorably manic comic relief characters, they get so annoying that I just want to step on them (or melt them down in Olaf's case), but not with Haynie at the helm. He's funny, adorable, and works the Olaf contraption like a master and best of all, is NOT trying to do a Josh Gad impression. He's still Olaf but he's his own Olaf. Kudos.
So, I went in thinking, "This will be cute for an evening" and left blown away by the magic and talent that doesn't always come through in the Disney transfers. And so, with my three-letter rating system, I give the National Tour of "Frozen" at the Paramount a "my cynicism, I had to Let It Go" YAY+. Great for the kids and great for the adults. A perfect theatrical family outing and a superb way to get kids into theater.
"Frozen" performs at the Paramount through March 1st. For tickets or information visit Seattle Theatre Group online at www.stgpresents.org.