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REVIEW: The Frozen Tornado Lands (Orpheum/Hennepin Theatre Trust)

Caroline Bowman stars as Princess Elsa in the North American tour of the musical Frozen, now playing through October 20 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis. Photo by Deen van Meer.

The national tour of Frozen landed at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis last week. This stage adaptation of the Disney animated megamusical hit is a top-notch musical extravaganza. Its 140 minutes with a 20-minute intermission are filled with moving songs, truly spectacular special effects, and a story of sibling affection to melt the most frigid critic’s heart. The cast is excellent and the performances figuratively and literally sparkle.

In the unlikely event that you’ve never heard of the international, intergenerational phenomenon that is the Frozen franchise, here’s your 30-second version: in a distant kingdom that looks a lot like northern Scandinavia, two princesses are separated by a magical episode and tragedy. When circumstances bring them back together, a spell of endless winter intrudes to bind the kingdom in ice. The many, many real-life children (and grown adults) sporting beautiful blue and green princess gowns and belting “Let It Go” since 2013 are the result.

Caroline Innerbichler (Anna), Caroline Bowman (Elsa), and the North American Touring Company of Frozen. Photo by Deen van Meer.

The story of Frozen is loosely based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tale The Snow Queen. The differences are important, but it’s not the larger beats of Frozen‘s story that make the movie and stage musical so compelling – it’s the how and where the focus lies, emphasizing the siblings’ journey through childhood and peril to reconciliation and salvation. Whether portrayed by  the child actors (on press night, Olivia Jones as Young Anna and Natalia Artigas as Young Elsa, both very talented) or adults (Caroline Innerbichler as Princess Anna, Caroline Bowman as Princes Elsa), this production vividly captures that special chemistry of dear siblinghood. That’s a sort of magic tat lingers in the memory long after the curtain has closed.

If you’re considering buying tickets to Frozen, the foremost thing on your mind is probably not whether you’ll like the show or not: thanks to the movie, and the involvement of its core writers in the stage product, that’s more or less a given. Going back to the theatre, however, may seem as intimidating as endless winter. To this end, the Hennepin Theatre Trust applies what is currently the gold standard for live entertainment: mandatory in-door masking, plus either proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test. While snacks and drinks can be bought in the lobby, they cannot be brought into the theatre, where masks must stay on at all times.

Mason Reeves as Kristoff and Collin Baja as Sven in the North American Tour of Frozen. Photo by Deen van Meer

Watching Frozen onstage is something of a rollercoaster ride: gripping, yet when the first act comes to a close, it feels like no time has passed. Where most movie-to-stage adaptations start out slow, Frozen goes immediately for the jugular, tugging on half a dozen emotional cords before the expansive opening comes to a close. It’s easy to get lost in this immersive world suffused with stage magic, elaborate and morphing projections, an oft-transforming set, and a host of elegantly integrated practical effects and puppetry. Special Effects Designer Jeremy Chernick practically deserves top billing. 

Another feature that pulls audiences into the world of Arendelle is the creative use of the ensemble, whose bodies regularly  combine to form visual sculptures and set pieces draped in shadows and projected ice. Local audiences familiar with Transatlantic Love Affair will recognize some of the techniques, but the envelope is pushed to an extraordinary standard. Frozen sets high expectations in the visual department, and smashes them repeatedly in scene after beautiful scene.

Speaking of expectations: you will not be thinking of Idina Menzel when watching Caroline Bowman’s thrilling performance as Princess Elsa. After Bowman brings down the house with “Let It Go” at the end of Act I, you might wonder how the show can go up from there. (The answer, by the way, is the hilarious ensemble piece “Hygge”, which is definitely a taste of something different.)

Weselton (Robert Creighton) and Hans (Austin Colby) and their guards seek out Elsa (Caroline Bowman) in her icy palace in the North American Tour of Frozen. Photo by Deen van Meer.

Also shining in the cast is Eagan, MN native Caroline Innerbichler as Princess Anna. Somewhat aged up from the movie version, Innerbichler’s Anna flirts with Hans (Austin Colby) and Kristoff (a rib-tickling comedic foil of a performance by Mason Reeves in a series of delightful meet-cutes. Their respective duets “Love Is An Open Door” and “What Do You Know About Love?” are delightful effervescent pieces with crackling and contrasting chemistry. Innerbichler’s rendition of “For the First Time in Forever” is ebulliently infectious.

For all the artifice involved in this production, it may seem surprising that the non-human characters are equally endearing. The reindeer Sven (Collin Baja in the reviewed performance) and snowman Olaf (F. Michael Haynie) will certainly be favorite parts of the show for children of a certain age, with Olaf/Haynie’s many jokes for the parents setting the audience chuckling.

This show’s one for the memory books.

Frozen plays through October 30, 2021 at the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis, MN.


Basil Considine