I was transported to the magical world of Arendelle when I entered the grand Crown Theatre in Perth for the opening night of Frozen the Musical in a way that I was not prepared for. Already keenly familiar with the story of Anna and Elsa, I had a strong sense of the emotional journey that I was about to embark upon but getting to experience the overwhelming magic and wonder in person was an experience like no other. As someone who feels that Frozen is very near peak perfection for Disney musicals, what I say next I don’t say lightly:
Frozen The Musical is the very best version of Frozen you’ll ever get to see.
For those who haven’t heard Let It Go for the one hundredth millionth time yet and are new to the world of Frozen, the story quickly introduces us to Princess Elsa and Princess Anna, sisters who share a joyful bond. Elsa has an untapped icy magical ability which her parents have forbidden her from using. Anna knows of Elsa’s magic powers which allows her to conjure snow and ice, and through the ever-charming, ever-catchy song Do You Want to Build a Snowman?, Anna encourages Elsa to use her powers. Wanting to make her sister happy, Elsa uses her powers, harming Anna in the process, almost killing her.
Saved by the powers of the hidden folk, Anna’s memories of Elsa’s power are wiped, and to be kept safe from Elsa, the two are kept separate for years, with the gates of Arendelle being closed to all outside. After the death of their parents, Elsa awaits her coronation to become the Queen of Arendelle, eager to also reconnect with Anna, who in turn is eager to see the doors to Arendelle kept open. The two instantly bond with one another, but before too long, Elsa’s powers emerge, and through a disagreement with Anna, she manages to smother Arendelle and the region in an eternal winter.
While there’s a tinge of romance in the mix, what sets Frozen apart from the many Disney musicals that came before it was the way that the story focused predominantly on the relationship between Anna and Elsa, and in turn, created an empowering tale of the strength of sisterhood and the importance of understanding, loving, and appreciating your siblings. While that theme carried strong and proud in the animated film, it truly soars in the stage musical where the doe-eyed visuals are pushed aside for living, breathing individuals.
For the Australian leg of Frozen the Musical, the co-leads of Anna and Elsa are played pitch perfectly by Courtney Monsma and Jemma Rix respectively. Courtney’s presentation of Anna is a proudly optimistic one, thriving with joyful energy and stunning vibrancy. It’s clear that every moment that Courtney is on stage, she’s living a dream of playing a Disney Princess, and most importantly, she gets to bring a unique energy to her version of Anna. There’s nary a hint of Kristen Bell’s presence here, instead Courtney truly makes the role her own, and she does so defiantly.
Equally defiant and proud is Jemma Rix’s Elsa. Jemma gets the show-stopping, jaw-dropping song of the show when she sings Let It Go as the first act closer, and you’ll be hard pressed to find a dry eye in the house with the strength and energy that Jemma conjures with the song. There’s a reason that this has become an anthem, a salve for those dealing with whatever difficulties may be within our minds, and Jemma gives Let It Go the respect and dedication it deserves.
But Elsa is more than Let It Go, and it’s in this grounded setting of live theatre that we get to experience the journey that she goes on with a deeper emotional truth than the animated film could. This is no slight on the film – again, I genuinely believe it’s a top tier animated film, one of the all-time greats – but for a narrative that’s so deeply entwined with Elsa’s emotional journey, it’s a genuine treat to be able to see Jemma Rix powerfully stride through Elsa’s story with pride and honour. It’s clear that for both Courtney Monsma and Jemma Rix they both understand intimately what these characters mean to audiences, and that dedication and care rings true whenever they’re on stage.
The supporting cast is equally stunning. Thomas McGuane flits perfectly between the extremes that the character of Hans requires, with his effortless charm as the potential beau for Anna eventually giving way to the depths of what being the thirteenth Prince from the Southern Isles brings. As Hans and Anna share the duet Love Is an Open Door, McGuane makes it very easy to swoon over his confident Hans, and Courtney’s performance as Anna sees her easily falling for his charm.
Sean Sinclair’s Kristoff is an easy going, supportive figure, who is given his own moment of joy when he performs the smile-inducing Reindeers Are Better Than People. Kristoff is a no-nonsense, hard-working figure who loves being on the land with his trusty reindeer Sven (Jonathan MacMillan/Lochie McIntyre), and Sinclair delights in playing up his eccentricities, making him an easy figure to fall for.
Understandably, one of the main characters that audiences will be eager to see on stage is the giddy snowman Olaf, utterly delightfully played by Matt Lee. I’ll touch on the puppetry shortly, but Lee’s Olaf has instantly become my Olaf, partly in thanks to his wondrous and hopeful performance of In Summer, a tune that will leave you in stitches with how utterly hilarious and wilfully absurd it is. After all, if a singing and dancing snowman isn’t enough to make you smile, then a singing and dancing snowman yearning to be on the beach in summer with his seagull friends will certainly push you over the edge.
Rounding out the cast with notable performances is Aljin Abella’s Weselton, a noble figure who instantly distrusts Elsa’s magic ability. Abella spits out the word ‘monster’ with a vigour that is only matched by his gloriously over-the-top dance routines. Jayme-Lee Hanekom’s Bulda and Jakob Ambrose’s Pabbie comfortably transfer the troll characters to the stage, here presenting these mystical characters with an air of intrigue and strength. Justin Anderson’s Oaken gets to open the second act with the slightly risqué and completely hilarious sau-na associated tune Hygge (pronounced ‘Hooga’).
Encompassing all the performances is Rob Ashford’s energetic choreography that empowers performers to deliver the best versions of their characters as they could. With the baseline of the songs and the performances, Frozen The Musical is comfortably a must-see event, but with Michael Grandage’s considered direction, the jaw-dropping lighting design by Natasha Katz, the awe-inspiring scenic and costume design by Christopher Oram, transformative video design by Finn Ross and special effects by Jeremy Chernick, inspired hair and make-up by David Brian Brown and Anne Ford-Coates, and immersive sound design by Peter Hylenski Frozen The Musical instantly becomes one of the most memorable musical events that Perth will get to see.
There were countless moments during Frozen The Musical where I wondered under my breath exactly how the creative team managed to pull off what I was seeing before my eyes. A climactic moment left me truly astounded as a sea of people adorned in white suddenly transformed into a giant icicle structure, with lighting projected onto it making it seem like someone sliced a chunk off an iceberg and placed it on stage right before me. While this may seem like an incidental moment in a musical that’s full of visually stunning moments, it’s at this point that I felt like I was witnessing true magic before my very eyes. Mind you, this was after I’d seen beams of light turn into glitter, sparkling out of the ether and disappearing before they had a chance to land, and I’d seen the glory of the aurora borealis within Crown Theatre itself.
I had hoped to be entertained when I walked in the room, but I didn’t expect to have my heart soar in my chest with pure joy and delight when getting to see Michael Curry’ puppetry at work. If there was one aspect of Frozen I was genuinely unsure if it could ever be pulled off, it was how Sven and Olaf would be presented on stage. For Sven, the physicality of the reindeer is brought to life by Jonathan MacMillan and Lochie McIntyre (at certain performances for both), and the manner that they are able to bring the lanky being to life left me truly stunned. Then Matt Lee appeared as Olaf, embodying the snowman completely and imbuing the diminutive, conjured creature with as much spirited energy as possible. Given the machinations of the puppet work for Olaf, we see Lee’s face, and it’s absolutely clear that the pure-hearted energy of Olaf thrives within Matt when he’s on stage as the snowman.
Disney has made a fine art of transferring their cinematic musicals to the stage, and Frozen The Musical is easily the peak brilliance of their stage musicals so far. I’ve already proudly sung along to Let It Go at the top of my lungs as I drive along in my car, and while I’ve had the animated visuals in my mind as I sing along, I now know that I’ll forever have Jemma Rix’s performance in mind as I try my very best to imitate the energy of Elsa. This proudly feminist stage musical is a must see for all families.
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