As I sat in the theater surrounded by tiny royalty and their grownups, I was overcome with joy to hear the pre-show announcements welcoming those experiencing their first Broadway show. And what better show to start with than a story about family, woven together by one of the best-written musical scores in modern history. Before I go any further, I should disclose that Frozen is a very special show for my family. When the original film was released in 2013, I was a stay-at-home mom to a 2-year-old and a 2-day-old. We watched the film several times a week and the soundtrack was a constant companion in the car. When it was adapted for the stage in 2018, we took our daughters to see it as their first Broadway show. Now that it has arrived in Washington, DC, I was thankful to have my 12- and 10-year-old daughters join me at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, nearly 10 years to the day after the film’s first release.
The creative team led by Director Michael Grandage includes original composers Bobby Lopez and Kristin Lopez-Anderson and original screenwriter Jennifer Lee. It is important to remember that musicals adapted from films need to shift from their original three-part structure to a two-part structure, often resulting in an Act I that spends more time developing the characters and conflicts. This means younger audiences will wait a bit longer for their favorite song, but I promise it is worth the wait.
The story begins with the townspeople of Arendelle as a Greek chorus to introduce the royal family. Kyle Lamar Mitchell as King Agnarr and Katie Mariko Murray as Queen Iduno bring a wonderful warmth to their roles, and Young Elsa played by Erin Choi and Young Anna played by Annie Piper Braverman do an excellent job with the silly and serious moments to paint a full picture of their relationship in just a few scenes.
Lauren Nicole Chapman as Anna keeps the silly sensibilities as the younger sister, but now with a tinge of hesitation and uncertainty when approaching others. Chapman is delightful in her role and delivers on her character’s optimism and adapted trauma responses throughout the story. She excitedly begins the number “For the First Time in Forever,” which turns into an epic introduction to Coronation Day with sweeping musical lines filled with joyful anticipation.
Caroline Bowman portrays Elsa with great power and control. Elsa lives in the shadow of her parents’ rule and the expectations of the kingdom rest squarely upon her shoulders. Although many consider “Let It Go” to be the best song in the show, I think “Dangerous to Dream” is a more powerful showcase of Bowman’s stellar vocals and nuanced acting. The supporting choral arrangement is particularly moving, helping to further elevate the piece and mark the emotionally poignant moment for Elsa.
Meanwhile, Princess Anna meets Prince Hans, played by the charming Preston Perez. The two quickly become enthralled by each other’s adorkable personalities and decide to get married, but they first need the blessing of the newly crowned Queen Elsa. She refuses and the two royal sisters have a disagreement that results in Elsa being unable to control her emotions. Her powers are unleashed and she storms off into the mountains, leaving an icy trail in her wake. Anna follows Elsa and leaves Prince Hans in charge of the Kingdom of Arendelle in her absence.
We soon meet Kristoff the Ice Harvester, played by Dominic Dorset; Sven the reindeer, performed by Collin Baja and Dan Plehal in alternating performances; and Olaf the Snowman, performed by Jeremy Davis. The spectacular puppet fabrication of Sven and Olaf is by Michael Curry Studio, the same studio used for Disney’s The Lion King. The Sven performer is completely concealed and operates multiple mechanisms to articulate the ears and other small details that really elevate the performance. Although the character has no spoken lines, their physical performance captivates hearts and even elicits audible reactions upon their first entrance. (You can learn more about it from this YouTube video.)
Davis’ performance as Olaf is reminiscent of Danny Kaye in his comedic timing and bright-eyed delivery. I really enjoyed his performance of “In Summer,” a vaudevillian-style comedy song that demonstrates the range of both puppet and performer. Unlike Sven’s performers, Davis is fully visible in a wintry costume but his scene partners maintain their connection with Olaf — allowing for hilarious moments and fun sight gags.
When Elsa enters in her winter cloak to the memorable underscoring from the orchestra, every tiny Elsa in the audience sat tall in their seats to take in the tune they know by heart. Bowman has the impossible task of performing a beloved song as a heartfelt and personal moment of Elsa’s journey and she truly makes it her own. Several wonderful lighting and special effects take place, all culminating in the dress transformation that is nothing short of magical.
Act II begins with Oaken (Jack Brewer) interacting with the audience and introducing “Hygge.” The number involves the ensemble in a very fun and memorable way that is not to be missed. Another group number is “Fixer Upper” led by Pabbie (Tyler Jimenez) and Bulda (Renee Reid). In the film, these characters are based on the Scandinavian folklore of Trolls, but they are portrayed on the stage as Hidden Folk and dressed in nature-inspired garb.
Anna’s health takes a sudden turn for the worse and Kristoff is caught off guard by his overwhelming feelings for her. He sings “Kristoff’s Lullabye” and the audience hangs on Dorset’s every note as he shows his newly discovered vulnerability. He’s told that Anna needs an act of true love to save her, so he takes her back to the castle to Hans in an attempt to save her life.
It is followed by a standout power ballad from Elsa called “Monster” where she is confronted by Hans and the guards who are seeking her capture. The music alternates time signatures and leans into the dissonance of Elsa’s inner turmoil and is another example of Lopez and Lopez-Anderson’s skilled composition and Bowman’s wonderful performance. (I also want to note that one of the musical numbers that is unfortunately cut from the National Tour is Anna’s ballad called “True Love.” The pacing for Act II is improved by the removal, but it’s a lovely song nonetheless. It’s thankfully available on the original cast album.)
Most audiences may already be familiar with the twists and turns of the ending, but I will simply say that the ensemble is used in an especially moving way during the final scene in a stunning collaboration of direction (Michael Grandage), choreography (Rob Ashford), costume design (Christopher Oram), and lighting design (Natasha Katz). In the end, all that was wrong is made right and the two sisters are reunited to rebuild their lives with love.
Because the Opera House is a large and impressive venue, seat selection may be a consideration. If you prefer to see the beautiful details of the exquisite costumes and puppets, then the orchestra seats will be ideal. If you prefer to view the entire width of the stage and see the sweeping choreography and stunning visual effects as a whole, then the balcony and mezzanine seats will provide a visual feast for the eyes. Seat cushions are available first come first serve for those who need vertical assistance. There are also plenty of restrooms for patrons of all ages.
This production is family-friendly while also boasting top talent and technical achievements. Audiences of all ages will enjoy it, but I think newer theatergoers will have an experience that will help develop an appreciation of artistic expression.
Running Time: Two hours and 10 minutes, including one 20-minute intermission.
Disney’s Frozen plays through January 21, 2024, in the Opera House at John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts, 2700 F St NW, Washington, DC. Purchase tickets ($35–$185, with student rush and discounts available) at the box office, online, or by calling (202) 467-4600 or (800) 444-1324.
The program for Disney’s Frozen is online here.
COVID Safety: Masks are optional in all Kennedy Center spaces for visitors and staff. If you prefer to wear a mask, you are welcome to do so. See Kennedy Center’s complete COVID Safety Plan here.