Let’s start with the most important thing. Yes, Jemma Rix sings Elsa’s mega-hit song ‘Let It Go’ as the barnstorming closer to act one of this musical staged version of Disney’s Frozen. And yes, she absolutely goddamn nails it.
The story, as any seven-year-old could tell you, is this: Princess Elsa was born with the ability to create snow and ice from her fingertips, but after accidentally wounding her sister and best friend, Anna, she is convinced to hide her powers beneath thick gloves and a frosty veneer of detachment. That strategy is bad for sororal bonding but good for the safety of the kingdom, until the demands of a glove-free and highly emotive coronation day release a literal and metaphorical storm. Details get somewhat hazy after that, with various characters going up and down the mountain that overlooks the sisters’ home of Arendelle, but there’s a talking snowman, an affable reindeer and various degrees of cold and winter clothing involved.
The animated version of the story is focused on Elsa, whose platinum fishtail braid adorns lunchboxes the world over. But the stage version is much more centred on Anna, a kindhearted goofball played with true joy and charm by Courtney Monsma. Her singing is more than up to the task of Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s music, with a voice that’s Broadway-ready without going the full Ethel Merman. Her dancing is sharp and graceful, but it’s her physical comedy timing and willingness to commit to slapstick that make her really shine. Monsma gives her all to Anna’s naive innocence and enthusiasm, and it’s truly shocking that her thousand-watt smile doesn’t melt Elsa’s ice palace all on its own.
As Elsa, Jemma Rix manages to convey both the ice queen’s angst and her, pardon the pun, frigidity. When she finally lets it go, you can see a lightness in her movements that was missing from her leaden, stilted choreography while she was shackled by fear of her own powers. And that’s not just a testament to her formidable acting chops, though that of course plays a role. This is Disney, after all, and the House of the Mouse knows a thing or two about a big, magical reveal. I won’t spoil the moment, but on opening night there were audible whoops and gasps, and some of the audience jumped spontaneously to their feet at the end of the act, overcome by excitement. Rix, who also played Elphaba in Wicked, is making a career as Australia’s Idina Menzel. She’s an absolute vocal powerhouse, sliding effortlessly between big, soaring high notes and mid-range belts. There were goosebumps that had nothing to do with the cold.
Thomas McGuane nails the ‘handsome, charming and just the right amount of awkward’ brief perfectly as Hans, Anna’s love interest and confidante. Sean Sinclair is vulnerable and sweet as ice seller Kristoff, owner (and interlocutor) of the aforementioned reindeer. But it’s Matt Lee who really steals his scenes as wide-eyed Olaf the snowman. Dressed in all white with an orange pom pom pom atop his white beanie to represent a carrot, Lee manages to sing, act and manipulate Olaf’s physical puppet form all at the same time. He and the puppet are so intertwined you’d swear the snowman had a much wider range of facial expressions than open and closed mouth and eyes, as your brain transposes Lee’s expressions onto Olaf.
Some of the best magic comes from Natasha Katz’s lighting design, which can transform pillars of wood into pillars of ice and a summer’s day into a freak winter storm in an instant. Christopher Oram’s costumes and scenic design add to the Nordic setting with plenty of cosy jumpers and furry boots, as well as ice and snow popping up in unexpected places. And Jeremy Chernick has more than a few tricks up his sleeve in the special effects design, with things flying, swooping, hiding, re-emerging and popping up throughout.
I saw this show when it opened in Sydney, and as polished as it was then, it pops even more now. The cast have really settled into their roles and are now so full of electrifying energy you can almost physically feel it. Sharp as an icicle and dazzling as a snowstorm, Frozen is the hottest ticket in town.