St. James Theatre
246 West 44th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through July 2, $99 - $199
It’s ice cold at the St. James Theatre, and I’m not talking about the air-conditioning inside or the weather outside the venerable Broadway venue. I’m referring to what is happening onstage, where Disney has turned its Oscar-winning 2013 animated film into a special-effects-laden musical. Attempting to capture the runaway success of such other animation-to-Broadway hits as Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King, Disney has instead made a mess of the plot, which was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s story “The Snow Queen,” and added nothing memorable in the expanded score. In case you’re not familiar with the story: In a faraway kingdom, King Angarr (James Brown III) and Queen Iduna (Ann Sanders) have two young daughters, Anna (Audrey Bennett or Mattea Conforti) and Elsa (Brooklyn Nelson or Ayla Schwartz). Elsa is gifted (the gift is a curse, of course) with icy magic she can’t control. One day Elsa freezes part of Anna, so Pabbie (Timothy Hughes) and Bulda (Olivia Phillip) of the Hidden People save Anna but cannot remove the magic from Elsa, who despairs of her power. The parents separate the children to avoid another incident, but the adults are soon lost at sea — this is Disney, after all, where parents rarely fare well. Ten years later, Elsa (Caissie Levy) is ready to be queen of Arendelle; at the coronation ceremony, the sisters are reunited. The Duke of Weselton (Robert Creighton) makes a play for the queen, while Anna (Patti Murin) falls madly in love with Prince Hans (John Riddle) of the Southern Isles. Queen Elsa once again loses control of her magic and this time dooms Arendelle to an eternal winter. Unable to reverse the spell, she returns to her northern castle, where she plans to live alone so she can never harm anyone again. Anna is determined to brave the brutal cold and get to her sister, joined by ice seller Kristoff (Jelani Alladin), his trusted sidekick, Sven the reindeer (Andrew Pirozzi), and Olaf (Greg Hildreth), the girls’ childhood snowman come to life. Danger awaits along their treacherous journey, even with a brief respite supplied by Oaken (Kevin del Aguila), who offers them hot drinks and the use of a sauna. But the closer they get to the castle, the more it looks like they’re not going to make it alive.
The Broadway musical features a book by Jennifer Lee, who wrote the screenplay and codirected the movie with Chris Buck, and music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who wrote the eight songs for the film and an additional dozen for the show. “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” is still fun, and Levy gets to belt out the Oscar-winning “Let It Go” as the first-act closer, but many of the other songs don’t fall in sync with the narrative, bringing everything to a stop as the orchestrations soar just because they can. Murin (Lysistrata Jones, Wicked) has a goofy charm as Anna and bonds well with Riddle (The Visit, The Little Mermaid), but she and Alladin (Sweetee, Choir Boy) never generate the necessary heat between them. Hildreth (The Robber Bridegroom, Peter and the Starcatcher) nearly steals the show as Olaf, who manually operates the puppet from behind, when it is not already being stolen by Pirozzi (Movin’ Out, Hairspray Live!), who portrays Sven by arching over and using stilts inside the reindeer suit. (The reindeer’s blinking is creepy in a good way.) The costumes are by Tony winner Christopher Oram (The Cripple of Inishmaan, Evita), who also designed the ever-changing set, ranging from the girls’ bedroom to an ornate room in the castle, from a mountain trading post to ice daggers rising out of the floor. Levy (Les Misérables, Ghost) is in strong voice but gets overwhelmed by the special effects (designed by Jeremy Chernick, with lighting by six-time Tony winner Natasha Katz, sound by four-time Tony nominee Peter Hylenski, and projections by Tony winner Finn Ross), as does Tony winner Rob Ashford’s (Thoroughly Modern Millie, Cry-Baby) choreography and Tony winner Michael Grandage’s (Red, Merrily We Roll Along) direction. The cracking sounds and images as the ice spreads across the stage and even onto the walls of the theater are impressive, but they also grow more and more distracting, but perhaps that was done on purpose as the story grows holes that you can drive an ice truck through.