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All images by Paul Stackhouse
The young participants in Harnett Regional Theatre’s summer workshop are bringing Disney to life with their production of Frozen Jr., directed by Leanne Bernard. The story, based closely on the smash-hit 2013 film, follows sisters, Anna and Elsa.
Elsa has destructive powers she can’t control, powers that have caused the once-close sisters to have a strained relationship. When these powers cause devastation to the people of Arendelle, it’s up to plucky Anna to find her sister, set things right, and ultimately mend their relationship in the process.
The show opens before any of that happens, however. It opens when the sisters are young, portrayed at this stage by Rilyn Kerley as Anna and Courtney Butts as Elsa. Their backstory unfolds via a large-scale opening number with stomping choreography by Jenna Johnson, choreography that somehow manages to feature every member of the impressively large cast. Expertly designed and showing great use of space, Johnson’s choreography continues to breathe life and energy into the show long past the opening number. Another nice touch includes the spinning, swirling snowflake dancers Johnson utilizes throughout.
Kerley and Butts do a good job of showcasing the fun, playful relationship Elsa and Anna had early on, before Elsa’s powers caused her to have to be sequestered. Also cute in the backstory scenes are Aubrey Jackson as Queen Induna and Derric Wright as King Agnarr. Despite their young ages, their elaborate costumes and Wright’s adorably stern portrayal make them credible as royal parents.
As the show jumps forward several years, teenage Anna, portrayed by Ella John Dupree, bursts onto the stage in a film-quality Anna costume. From the moment she belts out “For the First Time in Forever,”she adds a vibrant energy to the production, as well as a healthy dose of comedic timing. Her delivery of “Love is an Open Door,” featuring the talented Sam Medlin as Hans and great, bouncy choreography, makes her character instantly endearing. Dupree’s spunky performance pairs nicely with Sydney Bradham’s more somber portrayal of the brooding Elsa. With an angelic face and a perfect ice princess voice, Bradham makes for a believable Elsa.
It’s not just the young leads who make this show great, however. The show features almost forty young performers, and each and every one is “on” and alert during every moment onstage. Director Bernard has obviously coached these young people on the importance of reacting and being present while in the background. It also doesn’t hurt that there are plenty of visual gags- like heavily-padded costumes and fake beards- to keep things fun.
And speaking of fun, nothing beats the huge costume of Sven the reindeer, impressively maneuvered by Chloe Johnson, and Sven’s interactions with Kristoff, charmingly portrayed by Jackson Breslin. Actually, one thing might be even funnier- and that’s Lily Kate Dupree’s rendering of Olaf, the magical snowman inadvertently brought to life by Elsa. When Dupree’s Olaf announces his “big, bouncy, butt” and belts out “In Summer,” it’s impossible not to laugh. At other times though, Dupree’s delivery is surprisingly straightforward and stoic, creating an Olaf who is funny in both a goofy way and a nicely understated way.
As the story moves toward its exciting conclusion, the message of love and family being the most important things shines through clearly, giving a warm quality to the show…despite the projected snowflakes and the awesome real snow incorporated into the performance. A warm story about overcoming a cold time, HRT’s Frozen Jr. Is impressive, sweet, and a whole lot of fun.
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