Frozen (QPAC) – theatre review

Adapting work from screen to stage can be tricky, even more so when it is a beloved animated feature. Thankfully, the hit family-friendly Broadway musical Frozen rises to this challenge, with lavish production design, stunning costumes and impressive special effects to astound as much as entertain.

The musical, adapted from the Disney film and Hans Christian Andersen’s original Danish fairy tale The Snow Queen, is a spectacle of magic, such as one would expect from Disney Theatrical Productions (just think of their other animated musical adaptions, Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast and The Lion King). And now it’s Brisbane’s turn to appreciate the freeze, which has been much-anticipated, given the show’s status as one of the most technically advanced productions mounted in this country.

Photos by Lisa Tomasetti

For those unfamiliar with the 2013 blockbuster film, the narrative is established quickly, along with the personalities of its initially youthful princess protagonists, the doting Elsa (Samara Wheeler) and her tornado with pigtails younger sibling Anna (Mila Hourmouzis). When as a young girl older sister Elsa finds she can make snow in their bedroom and builds a snowman with Anna, her ice magic harms her sister. Though Anna is healed by the mysterious Hidden Folk, Elsa’s magic remains, isolating her from her sister as they grow into adulthood. When Elsa (Jemma Rix) comes of age and is crowned queen, her magical powers unintentionally thrust the kingdom of Arendelle into an eternal winter. Her resulting departure causes her effervescent younger sister Anna (Courtney Monsma) to embark on a journey in search of Elsa and to save Arendelle.

While Elsa might have the biggest musical moments, in many ways Frozen is Anna’s show, especially in Monsma’s capable hands. She is a vivacious performer with a finely-honed sense of comic timing, who brings a perky charm to the role. Elsa’s change into an ice queen comes as part of the Oscar-award-winning ‘Let it Go’, which did much to popularise the film as a cultural phenomenon. Rix’s richly emotive voice gives the exiled Elsa a balance of strength and vulnerability.

There is incredible detail in all the set pieces of Oram’s scenic design. Disney’s signature puppet characters make some memorable appearances. Lochie McIntryre’s reindeer Sven (in a role alternated with Jonathan Macmillan to reduce the physical strain on the performers) is impressive. Younger audience members delight in the appearance of snowman Olaf (Matt Lee puppeteers the cheeky manifestation of the now-estranged sisters’ childhood imagination).

The stage production features a full score by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, including 12 new, specially-written songs from the original Academy Award-winning songwriters. While some serve more to flesh out the running time than progress the narrative, they still contribute to the spectacle . Act Two’s pantomime-esque opener, ‘Hygge’, for example, presents a line of towel-clad villagers dancing their way out of a sauna. It is a jubilant illustration of Rob Ashford’s diverse choreography, which includes graceful waltzes and ballet, along with a joyous ensemble maypole dance.

‘Hans of the Southern Isles’, serves as a solid introduction to the slick man of Anna’s dreams, when they first meet shortly before her sister’s coronation. However, it is Act Two’s anguished solo ‘Monster’ that serves as the second showstopper. Rix’s soprano vocals are stunning, elevating Elsa’s dark, introspective contemplation of who she really is to a complex exploration of her inner conflict.

This stunning musical extravaganza is an entertaining visual feast. At its heart is a focus on the sisterly bond between Elsa and Anna. The fact that as female protagonists they maintain their agency and do not have to depend of the protection of male saviours is, of course, all the better.

Meredith Walker
For more of Meredith Walker’s writings on theatre, check out Blue Curtains Brisbane

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