Frozen, A Musical Spectacular: A Disney Cruise Line Theater Review

Frozen is, without a doubt, Disney’s most successful animated feature film in recent memory. This instant Animated Classic has been integrated¬†into Disney’s theme parks and cruise ships at a remarkable rate, and a full-scale version of the film is coming to Broadway in spring 2018 (certainly the fastest move to Broadway for any Disney animated film, ever).

Why Frozen?

The public just can’t seem to get enough of princesses Elsa and Anna, reluctant hero Kristoff, comic sidekicks Olaf the snowman and Sven the reindeer, the cutest trolls you’ll ever encounter, a very enterprising shopkeeper named Oaken, and not one but two villains (no names named, no spoilers given). With its mega-hit songs, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman” and Oscar-winning, “Let it Go” by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, it feels like the heady days of Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, and The Lion King have returned.

Disney Cruise Line’s embrace of Frozen has been quite warm, including character meet-and-greets and kids club activities, movie showings on the ships’ big and small screens, a new Frozen-themed play space in the kids club on the Disney Wonder (more on that in a separate post), character make-overs at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, and a full day of activities (including deck party), Frozen Day at Sea, during the Disney Magic’s European sailing season and the Disney Wonder’s summer in Alaska.

When the Disney Wonder returned from her recent dry dock, not only did she arrive in Galveston with a new, Frozen-themed kids club zone, but with an all new stage production for the Walt Disney Theatre, Frozen, A Musical Spectacular. Not only is the show new, but the theater has been fitted with new staging technology to make the spectacular even more of a spectacle.

Premiere of Frozen on the Disney Wonder

I was on the second cruise after the Wonder’s return, so the true premiere was already in the record books. Regardless, the cruise staff gave the show a build-up befitting a World Premiere, and I imagine they’ll continue to do that for many cruises to come. The performance was scheduled for the last night of the cruise, and showtime was bumped up by 15 minutes, I suspect to allow extra time for crowd control. And crowd control was required. When I arrived 25 minutes before showtime, the theater was already more than half full, and the crowd was buzzing as if Walt Disney’s ghost was scheduled to appear. Happily, Frozen, A Musical Spectacular exceeded even those high expectations. The staging and performances set a new high point in the cruise line’s history of bringing Broadway-style entertainment to the high seas.

Frozen, A Musical Spectacular does an admirable job of translating the hit animated feature to the cruise line’s stage. The quality of performances, the quality of stagecraft, and the quality of the adaptation all live up to or exceed the standards we’ve come to expect of Disney Cruise Line’s main stage entertainment.

Story cuts are inevitable when turning a feature film into a one-act stage show. This is an art long-practiced by Disney, both at sea and at the theme parks. Still, cuts are cuts, and the creative process behind Disney’s painstakingly-wrought animated features doesn’t leave much fat or fluff to begin with. Entertaining scenes and key elements of the plot may be reduced to a couple of cryptic lines; shorthand understood by those in the know, perhaps a puzzle for those who do not. My companion, who has never seen the animated feature, admitted to being a bit lost.

There were just a couple of moments in Frozen, A Musical Spectacular where I felt those cuts were obvious. I’m sure the audience would have wanted to see more of Oaken, but he flitted by in a matter of seconds. He might have been cut altogether, as his scene doesn’t do much to move the story forward, but I guess the producers felt he was simply too popular to skip over entirely. His brief appearance simply reminded me of what was missing, distracting me from the action on stage. The other cut that troubles me is when Elsa and Anna lose their parents. I feel that tragedy should have had greater impact in the original film. For me, the changes made for this version took things farther in the wrong direction.

However, since Frozen is the most successful animated feature of all time, and the audience in the packed Walt Disney Theatre is definitely a Disney audience, I doubt there was much head-scratching going on. Still, if you haven’t seen the movie, do your homework and see it before you see the show; both are definitely worth the effort, and seeing the movie may not cost you anything out of pocket. Frozen was shown on stateroom TV and on the big screen above the Goofy Pool earlier in the cruise. So no excuses, people. You will see this show, and you will enjoy it!

Now, unlike the movie, the show does not start with an army of burly men sawing blocks of ice. No, what we have instead are the shadows of an army of burly men sawing blocks of ice. These shadows are cast all along the side walls of the theater. And that’s just the first of may very impressive effects projected along those walls. You’ve heard of surround sound? This, effectively, is surround vision, and it helps immerse the audience in the action.

The same projection technology is used to even greater effect when simulating snow and ice (and we know how much of that there is in this story). These and other lighting and stage effects are used so frequently and so effectively that they might be capable of carrying the show all on their own. It’s a credit to the fine cast that their performances equal or even better the technical achievements.

While all those burly shadows are sawing away, young Kristoff and his little baby reindeer sidekick, Sven, appear on stage as “it’s a small world”-sized puppets. Yes, puppetry plays some major roles in this production, providing the portrayals of Young Elsa, Young Anna, Olaf, and both young and grownup Sven. The puppet designs are courtesy of Michael Curry, who has made quite a name for himself on other Disney projects, including The Lion King on Broadway and Finding Nemo–the Musical at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. These puppets, and the performances by the actors (literally) behind the puppets, are just some of the many treats this production has in store. In what I consider to be a particularly adept bit of staging, the actresses who portray the adult princesses are also the puppeteers for young Elsa and Anna.

Frozen Performers

I wish I could give the performers credit where credit is due, name names and all that, but Disney Parks and Resorts doesn’t identify the members of its ensemble casts. The company wants us to come for the show and trust that the show will be satisfying, regardless of who is on stage or behind the scenes. Over the years, Disney and its cast members have done plenty to earn that trust.

This is especially evident in Frozen, A Musical Spectacular. I can’t think of a single cast member who disappointed, whether their role was small or large. And those with the largest roles–Anna, Elsa, Olaf, and Kristoff–were especially impressive. I’m not going overboard when I say, “Watch out, Kristin Bell and Idina Menzel” (the original Anna and Elsa). The cruise line’s press releases do credit producers, writers, designers, and the like–they hired some of Broadway’s best talent to bring this production to life, and it shows (Let it show, let it show…), but since the people who bring their work to life don’t receive deserved credit, I don’t feel a particular obligation to “roll credits.”

If you happen to be cruising on the Disney Wonder in the months (and no doubt, many years) to come, you have one more item to add to your “Must Do” list. And if you happen to have a Frozen-obsessed child (or adult) in your family, Frozen, A Musical Spectacular may even be a key determining factor in which ship (and hence, itinerary and port of embarkation). And there’s nothing wrong with that!

About Dave Marx

Dave Marx is a founder of PassPorter Travel Press, and co-author of PassPorter's Walt Disney World and PassPorter's Disney Cruise Line guidebooks.

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