Let it snow

Ensemble Arts Philly and the Shubert Organization present Disney’s Frozen

3 minute read
Bowman as Elsa, smiling with blond hair, a crown, an embroidered turquoise dress and gloves, and a purple cape.
Can Disney bring this movie magic from screen to stage? Caroline Bowman as Elsa in the national tour of ‘Frozen.’ (Photo by Matthew Murphy.)

It has been more than a decade since Disney's Frozen catapulted into the zeitgeist. Upon its 2013 release, the original film was ubiquitous, almost impossible to escape. It’s not surprising that Disney Theatricals made quick work of adapting it for the stage, and it brings its own share of wonder to its current national tour, now getting its Philly premiere at the Academy of Music through Sunday, April 7, 2024.

As if by magic, the film walked an impossible tightrope: appealing to a new, more gender-conscious generation of fans while adhering closely to the Disney formula (deceased parents, a non-human sidekick, princesses, and a quest for true love). The real magic of the story is not that it hides from its Disney bona fides but rather that it subverts our expectations, leaving audiences touched and delighted.

This is to say nothing about the music of the original film. The song's mega-hit, "Let It Go," turned Broadway star Idina Menzel into a household name. This song also broke from the norms of Disney formulas. Disney princesses usually trade in "I want" songs that reveal the hopes and desires of the lead character, usually involving acceptance, adventure, and/or love. "Let It Go" does something quite different as a song about self-sufficiency at the cost of social acceptance.

A Snow Queen for the 21st century

For those still unfamiliar, Frozen is an adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's The Snow Queen. It tells the story of royal sisters Elsa and Anna. Elsa is born with the ability to manipulate ice and snow. While still a young child, Elsa accidentally hurts Anna with these powers and is then kept away from her younger sister. She is taught to conceal these powers and develops deep anxiety around the ways she can cause harm. Fast-forward 10 years, and she is newly crowned queen and no longer able to keep her powers a secret. She runs away from the castle while citizens plot to take care of the monster. Luckily, her sister Anna still believes in her and begins a quest to bring her sister home.

The Broadway production premiered in 2018, but it never re-opened after the Covid-19 shutdown. Featuring a book by original screenwriter Jennifer Lee and an extended score by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, the musical makes a valiant attempt to rekindle the movie magic for the stage.

Thrills and cheers

While the marketing for the movie and the show centers around Elsa (played here by Caroline Bowman), Lauren Nicole Chapman's spunky and determined Anna carries this production. Displaying a remarkable range that showcases a lovely soprano and vivid characterization, it is all but impossible not to root for her. As Elsa, Bowman shines in the searing act-one closer, "Let It Go." However, in other moments, Elsa feels rather small, overly constrained by her own anxiety.

For most of the show, Christopher Oram's set and costume design look top-notch, especially under Natasha Katz's magical lighting. The one unfortunate exception is during "Let It Go." What is supposed to be a dazzling ice palace built by magic is uniquely underwhelming and strangely cheap-looking. The set does allow for a bit of stage magic that gives the audience the costume change of our lives as Elsa transforms into the Snow Queen in front of our very eyes. The audible gasps and this moment’s thrill make up for any downfalls this production has. Elsewhere, the talented ensemble makes its own magic with Rob Ashford’s fantastic choreography.

Before the show, a Disney voice-over gave a special welcome to anyone who was seeing a "Broadway musical" for the first time. Cheers erupted. If Frozen does nothing else but introduce thousands of young people to the wonder of live theater, that will be enough.

What, When, Where

Frozen. Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, book by Jennifer Lee; directed by Michael Grandage. Through April 7, 2024, at the Academy of Music, 240 S Broad Street, Philadelphia. (215) 893-1999 or ensembleartsphilly.org.


The Academy of Music is a wheelchair-accessible venue. Contact Ensemble Arts Philly by phone or email, or visit its accessibility page for specific access info.

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