It seems like so long ago when Frozen – Live at the Hyperion was first announced and Frozen-mania took hold, well a stronger hold, over the Disney Parks. But the months have passed and it is indeed now summer and the show that thousands of Disneyland Resort guests have been waiting for is finally here!
When it was announced back in September that Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular was going to be replaced with Frozen – Live at The Hyperion, I, like many guests, was torn. Change is always difficult, but I’ve always found it particularly difficult when Disney changes a classic attraction or show to something more contemporary. I’m a firm believer in adding instead of replacing. I’m also probably a bit biased because Aladdin is in my top 5 favorite Disney films and also happened to be my childhood crush. That being said, I was a fan of Frozen when it was released back in 2013. The message of empowerment for girls that they do not need a man to save the day was especially pleasing when I saw how much my niece loved the movie. So, I decided to give Frozen – Live at The Hyperion a go. Change can sometimes be good, after all.
But does it live up to all the hype?
Let’s start with what is by far the most impressive thing to me about this new stage show: the casting. Disney has done an amazing job of casting talented actors for this new production. The main draw of this show is that it is a musical, so of course the actors had to have musical talent, and musical talent abounds in this show! Sorry, Idina Menzel, but I think that the stage version of “Let It Go” is my new favorite. The acting and singing is made more impressive when you consider how difficult it is to run around on stage and sing in tune at the same time. But not only do the actors seem to embody the personalities of each of the characters, Disney has gone a step further by color blind casting the characters. In other words, actors were chosen due to their talent, not their physical resemblance to the original movie characters. Disney has been receiving a lot of praise for this in social media, people are absolutely loving that white and non-white actors have been cast for this show. So, for this I give Disney a huge round of applause!
My second favorite thing about this new show is actually threefold: the stage itself, the props, and the costumes. The set changes in Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular were impressive, but with Frozen – Live at The Hyperion, Disney has gone above and beyond. The creative directors behind this production have really embraced digital technology and created a breathtaking digital screen both on the back of the stage itself and on the walls to both sides of the stage, which manage to create a panoramic view of Arendelle and the North Mountain for guests in the audience. When the show begins, there’s a sky view of Arendelle and later it’s like guests are flying over the mountain tops. Think of it like Soarin’ Over Arendelle. While I encourage people to watch the show in seats as close to the stage as possible, I would also highly encourage people to watch from the balcony levels to truly appreciate this new backdrop.
Going along with this, the stage has been completely re-designed and now features a revolving center section that is used for various sequences. The same digital screen is used to setup the backdrop for various scenes, from the forest while running from wolves, to the Arendelle ballroom, to Elsa’s Ice Castle. Lighting is also being used in a creative way, not only to create floor designs for the ballroom scenes and Elsa’s Ice Castle, but also to create Elsa’s magic. I had been expecting the actress to simply wave her hands and music and other actor’s reactions would imply her use of magic, but with this lighting it’s like you can actually see snow- and Olaf- being created in front of your very eyes.
I think one of my favorite props was the revolving center stage used during “Do You Want to Build a Snowman”. The door on this part of the stage to Elsa’s room that Anna knocks on is used as the main prop in the scene, rotating to show us Anna’s side of the song and then Elsa’s side. It’s then turned to a side view as the audience sees each sister receive the news of their parent’s passing.
The costumes. What can I say about the costumes except that they are absolutely gorgeous. The costume designers have truly put all their efforts into designing every piece. The most impressive costume, or costume change, was by far the change of Elsa’s coronation dress to the iconic snow dress. It’s done in the blink of an eye and is as visually captivating on stage as it is in the movie. Along this note, kudos to the actress for completely owning “Let It Go” and embodying confidence in this solo. Every tiny detail that made the outfits in the movie something every child (and some adults) wanted to wear at Halloween have been captured in this production.
But the most impressive costumes by far have to be those of Sven and Olaf. I was extremely pleased to see that Sven was in this production, since I had been so disappointed when Raja had been left out of Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular. The reindeer’s costume is so well done, that you forget there is an actual actor inside the outfit. The movements are so Sven-like that it feels like Sven is actually in the room.
With both Sven and Olaf, the costume designers have managed to capture the physical characteristics of each character that make them so unique. Specifically, Olaf still has his adorable little waddle. I’m also very relieved that Olaf was not made into a regular character costume, like the ones you meet to take pictures with. Of course, Olaf couldn’t have been brought to life if it wasn’t for the amazing actor that gives him not only his voice, but his movements as well.
For me, though, the absolutely best use of the digital backdrop and costumes has to be for the “Fixer Upper” scene. The costumes from the trolls are absolutely genius, especially for the trolls that are either standing on each other or standing on a rock. The digital backdrop is used to create an endless sea of trolls that add to the large number love experts in the room.
And finally, the content of the show itself. I realize that for a stage show inside of Disney’s California Adventure, the script had to be squeezed into one hour. Even knowing this, though, the entire production felt entirely rushed.
To me, it seemed like they sacrificed building the characters and developing Elsa’s story simply for the sake of using every single song from the movie in the show. Aladdin – A Muscical Spectacular removed “One Jump Ahead (Reprise)” for the sake of time, and I think that even removing “Reindeer Are Better Than People” would have added some valuable character building time. In fact, it didn’t feel like it was a musical show to me, but it felt more like a Frozen visual album.
I found that the script also seemed to favor Anna a bit more than Elsa. Anna, I noticed, had more time to show her reactions, such as turning to the audience and mouthing to herself during pivotal scenes with Hans, but Elsa’s reactions were shown for what felt like one second before another character had a line or the stage began moving to setup for another scene. To me, it felt more like Elsa was a plot device used to further Anna’s story in this version of Frozen. Whereas the movie was a story about Anna and Elsa, the stage production felt very much like it was a story about Anna and her sister.
Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular was great in huge part thanks to the Genie, who provided needed comedic relief through the majority of the show, and this is where I think that Frozen – Live at The Hyperion suffers. In the movie, Anna’s quirkiness is the comedic relief before the viewers are introduced to Olaf, who provides countless laughs throughout the rest of the movie. Where the movie has more time to develop Anna’s dorky side, the stage show’s limited running time means that this side of Anna is presented in a couple of lines. To me, this didn’t seem nearly enough for the first 20 minutes of the show, which were heavy in content with the death of Anna and Elsa’s parents and Elsa’s accidental use of her magic.
The writers tried to make up with this by giving the Duke of Weselton some lines, but again, his couple of lines seemed rushed to me. It isn’t until about half way through the show that guests in the audience are introduced to Olaf, and like the rest of the show, his development wasn’t given enough time. To me, Olaf in the movie was more humble and caring of his friends, his willingness to distract, albeit not well, the snow monster, and willingness to melt for Anna show this, but we didn’t get to see this in the stage show. For guests who saw Aladdin, the scene where the Genie delivers punch line after punch line when speaking with Jafar was invaluable, but we completely miss that sort of comedy in this production.
I think where the writers took a wrong turn was assuming that viewers in the audience would already know the characters and the movie so they would know what to expect. This is especially true in the final scene on the frozen waters where Hans is about to strike Elsa. The writers completely leave out Anna seeing Kristoff – her only chance at survival- and seeing Hans and Elsa, which creates that conflict of what to do. In turn this means that the audience completely misses the why behind Anna’s decision to save her sister being so important, why it made that the Act of True Love needed to save her life. Additionally, this assumption led the writers to largely remove Elsa’s turmoil over her powers. In the movie, you see a clear struggle within herself, but in the stage show you miss this entirely. There is no inner struggle, Elsa is merely there.
After this, Elsa’s realization that love will thaw the ice she created seems extremely rushed and kind of… out of place. Maybe that was just the way the actress gave the performance, but to me it seemed as though Elsa didn’t really realize it on her own. The line “Love will thaw” simply seemed like another plot device meant to lead the show into the final scene.
Speaking of the final scene, this was perhaps my favorite 10 seconds of the entire production. I absolutely loved, and cannot rave enough, about how perfect it was to not only have an acapella reprise of “Love is An Open Door” but to- SPOILER- have Anna and Elsa’s mother and father sing the first few lines, as though watching over their daughters and relieved that they’ve found each other once more and have found happiness.
So, does Frozen – Live at the Hyperion live up to the hype?
To me, no. The original movie had a great message for viewers of all ages, but that message is entirely lost in the rushed script of the stage production. Is it up to the level of the classic Disney movies and shows? No. I think that Disney could have picked from countless other classic films to turn into a stage production (can we please get a Hercules show soon?), but they decided to go with Frozen as another way to make money off something that has already been overly marketed.
Does it live up to Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular and should it have replaced the show? Absolutely not. Is it a good show to watch for the music, the acting, and the visuals? Yes! In fact, I would recommend watching the show purely for those things, because if it hasn’t been clear, to me the writing and the content were really lacking.
But hey, that’s just one opinion. I encourage everyone to head on over to California Adventure to get a fastpass for the show! And I also encourage everyone to do so early as the fastpass have been running out before noon each day! Fair warning, though, you’ll probably have “Let It Go” stuck in your head for another month.