by Erika Sasseville
Theater is back! I’m so thrilled to be writing my first review of the pandemic about this spectacular production. Disney’s Frozen is playing at the Orpheum Theatre now through October 20th, so if you’re looking for a magical night out – with or without your kids – I highly recommend catching this show while you can. Based on the 2013 film with Jennifer Lee and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez returning to right the Book and Music/Lyrics respectively and directed by Michael Grandage, this stage show is incredibly successful at recreating the magic of the original film while also providing brand new opportunities to fall in love with the story.
Disney’s Frozen tells the story of Anna (Caroline Innerbichler with Olivia Jones and Victoria Hope Chan as Young Anna) and Elsa (Caroline Bowman with Natalia Artigas and Natalie Grace Chan as Young Elsa) of Arendelle, sisters kept apart for much of their childhood to keep Anna safe from the power of Elsa’s ice magic. After being crowned queen, Elsa accidentally unleashes a winter storm across Arendelle before fleeing to the mountains to make sure she can’t harm anyone else ever again. Anna then goes on a quest to rescue her sister and bring back summer. Along the way, she is assisted by ice-merchant Kristoff (Mason Reeves), his trusty reindeer Sven (Collin Baja and Evan Strand), and Olaf (F. Michael Haynie), a snowman brought to life by Elsa’s magic. By the end, Elsa learns that her own power is nothing to fear, Anna finds joy in new friends and a renewed closeness with her sister, and they both discover that true love between sisters is stronger than any magic.
This show would not be nearly as successful in creating the magic it needs without the incredible work of its technical designers, the entire team must be applauded for creating the magical land of Arendelle to the stage. I was most amazed by the technical work of Jeremy Chernick (special effects design), Finn Ross (video design), Michael Curry (puppet design), Christopher Oram (scenic and costume design), and Natasha Katz (lighting design).
While the technical work builds the world and creates the magic, it’s the cast who brings the show to life. There are several moments when the ensemble shines, but none as delightful as the original song that opens Act II: “Hygge.” Hygge (HOO-ga) is a Danish/Norwegian word that describes a quality of coziness and comfort that creates a sense of contentment and warmth. Led by Oaken (Michael Milkanin), the film fan favorite of “Yoo-hoo, big summer blowout!” fame, the ensemble shines in this upbeat toe-tapper. Milkanin is hysterical as the shopkeeper and sauna enthusiast, breaking the 4th wall to welcome the audience as he helps the audience pronounce and describe the Scandinavian concept. Oaken helpfully gives us a few examples: things that ARE Hygge include eating, alcohol, candlelight, and sitting by the fire; things that are NOT Hygge include spiders and dying a painful death. Just when you think you couldn’t possibly love this song more, Oaken introduces his family and friends who jog out of the sauna wearing nothing but towels (and nude bodysuits) and carrying leafy branches perfect for in-sauna skin care and for covering up any body parts that might grant the show a higher rating than G. The song truly needs to be seen to be experienced properly, I can’t think of any number in any musical that has made me laugh harder.
Princess Anna and Queen Elsa could not be in better hands than those of Caroline Innerbichler and Caroline Bowman. Bowman is as regal and powerful as you want Elsa to be, while Innerbichler goes above and beyond in portraying the beloved and relatable Anna. Bowman has more than a few heart-stopping and heartbreaking moments as Elsa, and her appearances on stage herald most of the show’s magical technical moments. As isolated as Elsa feels throughout the story, Bowman has an incredible talent for bringing the audience along with her. The entire audience held its collective breath at the climax of “Let it Go” and roared with applause at the final note.
Together with Olivia Jones (and Victoria Hope Chan for alternate performances), Innerbichler masters-ADHD over-talking and physical comedy to make you fall in love with her almost immediately. Her onstage chemistry with her love interests Kristoff and Hans (Austin Colby) are extra special in their contrast. While she has a genuine and lovely rom-com connection with Kristoff, Colby’s Hans is Anna’s match in awkwardness and physical comedy, especially in the dance break for “Love is an Open Door.” Anna and Hans’ share a hilarious make-out session at the end of the song which foreshadows touches of more “adult” content throughout the show – Tyler Jimenez as a devastatingly excellent dancer and absolutely ripped Pabbie, as well as the aforementioned naked Hygge ensemble to name a few – which really serves the adult audience another source of comedy to appreciate.
Deserving of special attention are the actors behind the show’s puppetry characters. Collin Baja and Evan Strand alternate playing the reindeer Sven in a stunningly athletic performance involving a full body costume and what must have been thousands of hours of “planking,” Sven is adorable and breathtaking from the moment he trots onto the stage. Working the dual task of manipulating the puppet Olaf and creating a visible performance of their own, F. Michael Haynie (he/they) garnered many an excited whisper from the children around us. He balanced the subtle wit of Olaf’s humor and was a general delight to watch.
Disney’s Frozen was an absolute blast to attend, and I highly recommend it for any young fans or fans young of heart. If you’re looking for a show to break your pandemic theatre dry-spell, this is an excellent choice.
Show dates are Thursday, Sept. 30 to Wednesday, Oct. 20, 2021 at the historic Orpheum Theatre.
Performance times are Tuesday through Thursday at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 6:30 p.m.
Ticket prices start at $40. All pricing includes a Building Restoration Fee of $5.00.
Performance schedule, prices and cast are subject to change without notice.
PLEASE NOTE: As of 9/01/2021, Hennepin Theatre Trust announced that vaccine-eligible guests aged 12 and over attending any performance at the historic Orpheum, State and Pantages theatres will be required to provide proof of vaccination. Children 11 and younger will not need to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test. Additionally, all guests are required to wear a face mask securely covering their mouths and noses in the venue (except while actively eating or drinking in designated areas). Individuals 12 or older who require an accommodation for the vaccine requirement due to a medical reason or a sincerely held religious belief that prevents vaccination may present proof of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours in advance of the event or a negative antigen test taken within 24 hours in advance of the event. The vaccine policy for all events at the theatres will begin on Sept. 1, 2021, and is currently set to run through Dec. 31, 2021. Health and safety policies will continue to be regularly evaluated and adjusted based on community health data with public health and government guidance.