Just when we think we’re done talking about Frozen, Disney makes certain that’s far from the case. The gargantuan hit from Walt Disney Animation Studios hit theaters in 2013 and has since been an unstoppable titan of Disney synergy, spawning a short film, a theme park attraction, a Christmas special (which was placed in theaters and became a PR nightmare), an Arendelle season of ABC’s Once Upon a Time, and an unending flood of merchandise. While the movie has already been adapted for stage multiple times with Disney California Adventure, Disney Cruise Line, and Disney On Ice, there was one Infinity Stone that Elsa had yet to retrieve until now: Broadway.
With even the most ardent Frozen supporter, as I would consider myself to be, saturation of the franchise wanes patience thin these days. Anything new involving the property is still a guaranteed financial bet, no question, but for it to spark much intrigue, especially for adults, it must be innovative rather than derivative of the many (many, many, many) versions of this story we have now experienced so thoroughly over the course of the last five years that we could recite it from memory with our lives on the line. There are a few changes made to Frozen: The Broadway Musical that distinguish it from its animated inspiration, and the amount of differences would be acceptable for any other story. But for this one, there simply aren’t enough to make this feel like we haven’t done this before.
(Disclaimer: This is a review of the original cast recording, not the show itself, and as such will speak to commentary on the show’s story and music. I have not seen the show in person, and therefore cannot speak to acting performances, art direction, stage design, or production value, which may or may not influence perception of the show as a whole.)
Of Disney’s many animated musicals, Frozen is on the heftier side in terms of its existing library of songs, even before being adapted for Broadway. The movie boasts nine songs, one of which, “Frozen Heart,” a.k.a. the ice-cutting opener, is deleted for this version. Added into the mix, as expected, are several new tunes, all written by the original songwriting duo of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. The show’s book is also written by Jennifer Lee, co-director of the original film, which adds a level of authenticity to the minor story changes evident throughout. With the same team revising the story that developed it in the first place, the result here is loyal to its subject matter, perhaps a bit too much to be deemed new enough to seek out.
Of these edits, perhaps the most significant and most rewarding is digging deeper into who Elsa is as a character. More questions are asked about her powers, with one being particularly revelatory: If Hans kills Elsa as he intends to do, will that really rid Arendelle of eternal winter? Or will that just make it worse? These and other concepts allow Elsa to be more dynamic and multi-layered than she is in the movie, with the emotional beats of her arc cemented by three showcase songs, “Let It Go” being the anchor directly in the middle. On the other side are new songs “Dangerous To Dream” toward the beginning and “Monster” during the eleventh hour. “Monster” is the standout of any of the new songs, contrasting the emotional freedom of “Let It Go” with an inner monologue of insecurity and self-worth, with lyrics certainly applicable to not just Elsa’s situation. “Let It Go” is revived throughout, managing to weave in bits of the Demi Lovato version (I gasped) and spinning the theme of the song to be about how Elsa’s family can encourage her to let it go with them rather than it being something she has to do while only in seclusion. Still, the primary performance of the song is left nearly unaltered in form and length from its animated version. As the most iconic Disney song of the past decade, you’d think it would get more special treatment.
With the exception of “Let It Go,” all of the songs from the film are played by the book, with no real alterations other than a few lyric changes here and there. They’re pretty standard copies, which is disappointing considering the innovative ways past Disney Broadway productions gave completely new life to beloved songs, like “Gaston” in Beauty and the Beast, “Can You Feel the Love Tonight?” in The Lion King or “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” in Mary Poppins (which I spelled right now by remembering the way the Broadway version included that in its song, just sayin’). Instead, Frozen is content to leave its songs as-is, which again is especially irritating given the onslaught of frequency we’ve already heard them.
When the show does redirect its energy toward new songs, they’re mostly either bland or alarmingly memorable for how bizarre they are. In a sea of huge decisions to be made about this show, its creative team went with the obvious choice: giving the longest production number of the show to Wandering Oaken, naturally. “Hygge,” performed by Oaken and his family, is what I can only assume is an attempt to make a Frozen equivalent of “Hakuna Matata” by using the Danish word for “fun” and making it into the philosophy of Oaken. The result, though, is far less charming and is annoying verging on maddening. Honestly I don’t even want to imagine what must be happening on stage because, knowing Oaken, it sounds like the thing of nightmares and borderline creepy.
While the original cast recording of Frozen: The Broadway Musical is definitely not terrible, it feels like we’re going through the motions. It rehashes more than it refreshes. Given Frozen‘s undeniable success, a Broadway adaptation was inevitable. If Disney didn’t bring the film to Broadway, I’d be concerned. But I had hoped we’d get a bit more newness, whether in terms of more radical story revisions or musical arrangements, or even embracing a more cultural style of music. From what I can tell from the soundtrack, the show is undoubtedly an enjoyable family outing, but given Disney’s resume, it could have been more. But, again, this is purely based on the album, not the whole show. From the outside, though, I wish it gave us a reason to celebrate Frozen again rather than just contribute to the noise.