Tasty freeze: 'Frozen' skates past criticism

  • by Jim Gladstone
  • Tuesday November 22, 2022
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Caroline Bowman as Elsa in the 'Frozen' North American Tour<br>(photo: Deen Van Meer © Disney)
Caroline Bowman as Elsa in the 'Frozen' North American Tour
(photo: Deen Van Meer © Disney)

It'd be downright abominable not to grin at the sight of dozens of little kids —many no doubt experiencing their first big night at the theater— buzzing about the lobby of the Orpheum Theatre in shimmery princess dresses.

A handful of grown-up gay Mouseketeers sporting tinsel-threaded slim-fit suits and other celebratory seasonal fashions only added to the pre-show sugar rush at Sunday's opening night performance of Disney's "Frozen" road show.

Similarly, I'd qualify as human tundra had I not been tickled by the sight of an orange-vested Muni worker snapping away with his phone camera as the crowd poured onto Market Street after the final curtain to be greeted by a flurry of real snow emanating from above the illuminated marquee.

If the musical doesn't quite live up to the shiny packaging it's wrapped in, "Frozen" nonetheless delivers far more than the cold-blooded cash grab that Disney cynics might predict.

Dominic Dorset (Kristoff) and Collin Baja (Sven) in the 'Frozen' North American Tour (photo: Deen Van Meer. © Disney)  

The cutesier characters are touched with adult sophistication. Local native Lorenzo Pisoni (A.C.T.'s "Humor Abuse") designed the character movement for Sven the Reindeer, giddily executed by Collin Baja. And Jeremy Davis masterfully sings and manipulates Olaf the Snowman, a Julie Taymor-inspired puppet/puppeteer hybrid.

The singing is Broadway-strong: Caroline Bowman tears it up as Queen Elsa. The swoony tones of Dominic Dorset as Kristoff will send the body temperature of many audience members rising (along, perhaps, with those members' members).

Before grousing that the show's signature "Let It Go" is an all-too-familiar refrain after umpteen viewings of the animated source material with the children in your life, consider the number of rat dances and Scrooges you've smilingly endured. For Nutcracker alte kackers like this reviewer, "Frozen" is still relatively fresh.

The creative team, led by director Michael Grandage and the Disney Theatrical apparatus, enhances the show's novelty by expanding the scope of the movie. There are nearly three times as many songs (by Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez) in the version on stage at the Orpheum, including Kristoff's "What Do I Know About Love" and the sister duet "I Can't Lose You" which were added during pandemic shutdown and do not appear on the original Broadway cast album. The best stage-specific addendum is the blissfully gratuitous second-act opener, "Hygge" with its terrific clown car meets sauna schtick.

Caroline Bowman (Elsa), Lauren Nicole Chapman (Anna) and Company in 'Frozen' (photo: Deen Van Meer. © Disney)  

One of the new numbers, "Monster" is clearly intended as Elsa's Act 2 bookend to the earlier "Let It Go." While the song works as a second showcase for Caroline Bowman's arena-strength voice, its ambiguous lyrics (Are Elsa's freeze-ray powers more munificent or monstrous?) underscores the script's surprisingly muddled psychological characterization of its heroine. The movie's simple message that one can take pride in their uniqueness rather than feeling like an outsider becomes messily complicated in a bit of ill-advised overreach beyond cuddly snowman toward Ingmar Bergman.

While the Girl Power ethos of "Frozen" translates well to the stage, it also makes you realize how similar its twisted sisterhood is to the relationship of Elphaba and Glinda in its Broadway predecessor, "Wicked" (There's even an Idina Menzel connection thickening that plot). But that's canny corporate Disney at work, doubling down on the derivative to keep family fare all the more familiar.

For adult audiences, another flaw in "Frozen"s floe is the surprisingly cheesy and inconsistent visual rendering of snow and ice. A 'throw it all at the wall and see what sticks' approach alternately uses confetti, smoke, light swirls, projected stencils, Swarovski crystals and clunky plastic stalagmites. That said, kids will adore the much-ness of it all.

In the end, I'm loathe to lean too far Grinch-ward in regard to Disney's latest wintry windfall. It's got more tinsel than ambition, but "Frozen" delivers a blizzard of show-bizzy holiday fun.

'Frozen' through December 30. $50-$250; $40 rush tickets available. Orpheum Theatre, 1192 Market St. (888) 746-1799. www.broadwaysf.com

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