The next few months on Broadway will be loaded with new shows, but few are arriving with as much heat as Frozen. Adapted from the 2013 Disney film—the highest-grossing animated film of all time, and the source of the inescapable song “Let It Go”—this family-friendly musical traces the epic adventures of two royal sisters, Anna and Elsa, in the fictional kingdom of Arendelle. (It starts previews on February 22; you can buy tickets here.)
A key figure in bringing the show’s Nordic world to life on stage is British designer Christopher Oram, the two-time Tony Award winner who is creating Frozen’s sets and costumes. We spoke with him recently about the ideas undergirding his Norwegian-style costumes for the show, with ten photographs to help illustrate what he’s talking about—including four character portraits that have not previously been released.
“The costumes from the film are iconic, and so I approached the reimagining of them with trepidation and respect. I was also very aware that this would likely be the first time that a generation of young fans of the film would set foot in a theater, so it was important to me that they had an experience that was both familiar and at the same time new and exciting. Certain looks translated very easily into real fabric and onto real bodies; others took more revision before they found their balance.”
“The dress that Anna (Patti Murin) wears at the coronation, made by Eric Winterling, is a silk taffeta take on its movie counterpart, with enhanced dimensional embroidery in satin and organza. The film had a costume designer to create the looks, but animated garments behave without the effects of physics and gravity, and they have to be simplified; their shapes are slightly reduced on the physical bodies that people have in animated features, which are slimmer and more delicate—without hips, generally. Real garments have to accommodate actual humans. But you can also put a kind of detail into them that isn’t so easy to achieve on an animated garment; we’ve been able to get much more specific with the embroidery, because we don’t then have to redraw it in every single frame. Delving deeper in to those kinds of details has been part of the joy of it.”
“This is what Elsa (Caissie Levy) wears in the coronation scene, and it was also made by Eric Winterling. It’s a dress that represents the burden of being the queen, of being in charge; it’s earthbound and heavy but still beautiful and elegant. The colors are the household colors of Arendelle—blues and greens and golds—but they’re muted and somber. Later on, Elsa transforms into a much lighter and more alluring dress; this one is in deliberate contrast to the extravagant crystalline couture to come.”
“Bunad is the traditional Norwegian dress, and it’s the recurring theme of all the garments in the show. We were able to research it thoroughly through books and by visiting Norway; it’s still how they dress on festivals and occasions, and there are shops that sell contemporary versions of it and museums that have collections of antique versions of it, so you can see how it’s developed and changed. The costume for Hans (John Riddle) is a regal take on bunad, a classic princely look, with tailoring by Arel Studio. He arrives as the tall and handsome prince you’re supposed to be rooting for; it turns out he isn’t all he seems, but one wanted to make sure that he looked as classically perfect as possible.”
“In the movie, each of the characters has a reliable color palette that’s associated with them, with a flash of maroon accent somewhere that links them together thematically. And we’ve done a bit of that in a nod to the original designs. But the truth is you look at an individual actor and work out how they’re best going to be visible in the show. The Sami-inspired mountain outfit worn by Kristoff (Jelani Alladin), created by Jennifer Love, is brighter than it is in the film. If it’s very dark it becomes too somber—it’s a big colorful show and I wanted to make sure that Jelani popped a bit more. The character in the animated feature is chunkier and more solid than Jelani, who is much more lithe and elegant, so we’ve broadened his shoulders with the trim and stuff to give him a more rugged physique.”
“We start the show in summer, with the ensemble in their light summer gear, and end it in the depths of winter. So they have a journey that’s physicalized by what they’re wearing. In the final sequence they are choreographed to function as a blizzard; wearing layered, bunad-inspired winter outfits in shades of white (also by Jennifer Love), they become the storm that engulfs the sisters at the climax.”
“My personal taste and style in design have always veered towards the more sophisticated, whether in the royal wardrobe of Tudor England for Wolf Hall or the contemporary reimagining of Elsinore for Jude Law's Hamlet, so it was a natural extension of that to come to a world as rich, diverse and magical as Frozen’s. But nothing is ultimately more useful to any design process then to experience the world in which the piece is set for real. So our trip to Norway, in the footsteps of the original filmmakers, was both a revelation and a reassurance as it confirmed both what the film and my many reference books had suggested.”
“To experience the vast scale of the fjords, to feel the extreme cold of the mountains and to walk in the crepuscular half-light of medieval stave churches was the ultimate preparation for embarking on this journey. You get a sense of the scale of the place, the ache of the place, and the smells and the quality of light. On the bridge, Anna wears a mountain ensemble borrowed from Kristoff, based on his own Sami outfit. It’s a look new for her, created for the stage show: men’s clothes that are too big for her. When she realizes she can’t carry on in it, she changes into a skirt and cape, her iconic traveling outfit.”
“Sven is a creation of the incomparable Michael Curry, puppet maker extraordinaire. The costumes of Frozen represent a vast amount of work by many very fine associates and tailors and artisans, and it has been an incredibly exciting and satisfying journey for me. The design can’t be separated from the people who make it or the people who wear it, because it changes and adapts. The people who make it can solve technical problems and have years of expertise in the field; they have long relationships with Broadway shows, so they know all about how to physically create something that will exist for a long time on Broadway. No actual reindeer were harmed in the making of these outfits.”
“The most important person for a costume designer to satisfy is the performer who is wearing that costume, be they an actor, singer or dancer—or in the case of a musical like this, all three. They must be able to feel appropriately in character, but also be comfortable and able to do what is required of them. So practicality and safety are upmost in my mind when designing any new costume. And it is important to consider the wardrobe staff, too. They have to maintain the costumes: to clean them up long after the curtain comes down, and prepare and reset them the following day.”
Frozen starts previews on February 22 at the St. James Theatre, and opens on March 22. Click here for tickets.
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