Caroline Bowman as Elsa in the Frozen North American Tour. Photo by Deen van Meer.
There’s nothing quite like the magic of a Disney movie. However, when you take that magic and put it on a huge stage with cool special effects and skilled performers, you get something even better. In the case of the Durham Performing Arts Center’s latest production, that “something” is Frozen. The show, which is, of course, based on the smash hit Disney film, has won 16 Tony Awards, and it’s certainly easy to see why. Snow, sparkling costumes, and sensational songs combine to bring the world of Elsa and Anna to life and spark joy in viewers of all ages.
Just in case you’ve been living “on the mountain,” Frozen tells the tale of two royal sisters living in Arendelle. They start out as close pals, but older sister, Elsa, has a magical, freezing power she can’t quite control. And, out of fear, her parents urge her to isolate from Anna, fracturing their relationship. But, when their parents pass away, Elsa is thrust into the role of queen and has to come to terms with her power. As is customary with a Disney story, there are lots of songs, talking creatures, and a little bit of romance thrown into the mix. What makes this story stand out, however, is its empowering feminist-tinted message of self-love, which comes through both in the film and onstage. In fact, this is one show that parents can feel good about taking their littles ones to . . . though it’s just as enjoyable for the adults.
Viewers young, older, and in-between are treated to a talented cast belting out the hit songs from the film, as well as a few new additions. And, speaking of talented performers, no one could upstage the young girls who played the childhood versions of Anna (Saheli Khan) and Elsa (Sydney Elise Russell) at Thursday’s opening-night performance. Their playful energy and cute chemistry made them believable sisters from the start. Khan, in particular, stands out for her exuberance and comedic timing, while Russell nails her character’s more emotional moments. And, when the girls transform into their adult counterparts, portrayed by Lauren Nicole Chapman (Anna) and Caelan Creaser (Elsa), the transition is seamless, and the characters remain just as lovable. Chapman creates an Anna that is sweet, bubbly, and helplessly naïve while still being incredibly endearing, and Creaser makes for an impressive, just-the-right-amount-of-intimidating Elsa. Other cast standouts include Dominic Dorset’s uber-charming portrayal of Kristoff and Jeremy Davis as the always adorable Olaf. Davis does double-duty voicing and controlling the snowman character, and he also delivers some of the script’s funniest lines with perfect aplomb.
Aside from the gifted cast, this production outdoes itself in terms of visual appeal. There are “frozen fractals,” transforming dresses, and effects so real that children (and maybe a few adults) were left gasping, squealing, and completely mesmerized. In particular, Elsa’s pivotal transformation, in which viewers finally see the famed blue dress from the cartoon, is especially riveting. Add all this to Rob Ashford’s bouncy, joy-infused choreography and Michael Grandage’s precise direction, and you’ve got a clear winner.
Unlike some Disney-films-turned-Brodway-shows, Frozen doesn’t feel dragged out or dragged down. Instead, it moves quickly and remains engaging at every turn. It’s a perfect pick for a first Broadway experience, but also a nice pick-me-up for anyone who needs a healthy dose of childlike wonder in their life.
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