By Avery Strychasz, staff writer
As the lights began to dim and all the little Elsas in the audience were eagerly shushed by their parents, the barriers between the Aronoff Center and Arendelle began to blur. At once, resonant drums filled the air, instilling a sense of magic throughout the audience. Just when your mind began to wander, the theater exploded into the harmonic opening melodies of “Vuelie/Let the Sun Shine On.”
It is important to understand that the musical version of Frozen is not the movie. Yes, the general plot and earworm songs remain, but overall, this musical evolved and surpassed the movie by miles. When indulging in this, audience members need to let go of their preconceived notions and let the actors tell their stories.
For example, Young Anna and Young Elsa opened their performance with a charming song about how the musical’s comedic foil, Olaf, is a “little bit of (Anna) and a little bit of (Elsa).” The metaphor here is beautiful: The implication that Olaf – someone lovable – is a combination of the two sisters paralleled the conflict resolution of the musical itself. This character storyline makes the later separation between the sisters even more poignant.
In a shocking twist of events, some of the best performances of the night were given by side characters. Young Anna, played by Victoria Hope Chan, stole the opening number of the show with her childish acting and kid-based potty humor. Kristoff, played by Mason Reeves, stole our hearts in his realization ballad “Kristoff’s Lullaby.” This gorgeous love ballad and Reeves’ vocals made everyone swoon as Kristoff cited Anna as his definition of love.
However, the standout performance of the night had to be Anna, played by Marina Kondo. Kondo’s animated acting and nuanced expressions perfectly encapsulated the spirit of the feisty yet naïve redheaded sister.
When talking about the show’s highlights, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the real stars of the show: sets, costumes and lights. It is hard to describe in words the breathtaking and utterly magical combination of lighting and sets used throughout the show. Frankly, without the details of these three departments, the musical would have had no ground to stand on.
One of the best examples of this triad’s mastery was in the iconic performance of “Let It Go.” The show used lights and fast-moving set pieces to help Elsa, played by Caroline Bowman, construct her ice palace. Then, in the final moments of the song — when everyone waited with bated breath to see Elsa transform into her crystalline gown — Bowman races to a pedestal and her coronation gown is ripped away by invisible winds to reveal the showstopping costume.
While these departments made this performance spectacular, Bowman’s performance all around seemed to be missing a “wow factor.” Admittedly, this is a challenging role, and she still performed immaculately for her second show of the evening, but she seemed reserved on some of her power ballads, most notably in “Monster” and “Let It Go.”
Frozen is a must-see for anyone — young or old —seeking a deviation from traditional theater into a truly immersive and magical escape from the monotony of the everyday. This show far exceeded my expectations as a fan of the movie, and I hope I get the opportunity to see it again.
Disney’s Frozen is at the Aronoff Center through May 1.