Frozen on Broadway is a grown-up version of the Disney movie
Oscar-winning songwriters Robert and Kristen Anderson Lopez tell us about taking their musical Frozen from Disney film to Broadway.
Sure, Frozen is a Disney classic, but trying to sell weary parents on yet more of the musical — this time on Broadway at the St. James Theatre, opening March 22 — is not an easy task.
Despite the movie having come out in 2013, Let It Go remains in heavy rotation in the homes of every parent with children under age 10.
But Oscar-winning songwriters Robert and Kristen Anderson Lopez really want you to know that Broadway’s Frozen is for grown-ups.
“This isn’t the cartoon,” Kristen explains over the phone from the Brooklyn home she shares with her husband. “It’s about a family that’s frozen into its roles because of a trauma, and how that dysfunction plays out, and how they heal it.
“Right on the ticket, it says, ‘Recommended for ages 8 and up,’” quotes Kristen, though she adds, confidentially, that she thinks “a sophisticated 5-year-old can have a really wonderful time.”
We’ll take her word as the mother to two young daughters — who, it’s no secret, helped inform Elsa and Anna in the film (and even loaned their voices). The making of Frozen has truly been a family affair, which is something the Lopezes hope comes through in the stage adaptation.
Expanding on those deeper — in a film already packed with plenty of darker themes — was what kept the Lopezes with the franchise as it transitioned to the stage.
“One of the most exciting things leading us into this project was widening the lens of what true love is,” Kristen says. “As a woman, I had stories in my head that you can fall in love in one day and your problems are solved because of that.
“Actually, it’s a lot more complicated; sometimes the love you’re looking for means going back and connecting with your childhood and healing some stuff before you meet the handsome guy — or girl!”
Though Kristen brought a woman’s essential perspective to the story, her husband Robert — the first-ever double EGOT-winning artist as of the 2018 Academy Awards — had his own feminist insights during his journey with Frozen.
“Kristen identified that men go on this journey, when they come of age, to discover that they’re indeed not the center of the universe, that other people do exist,” says Robert (or Bobby, as he introduces himself).
“Women need to learn that they are the center of the universe, and their feelings are the only ones that matter. That’s really what Let It Go is about.
“I guess the perception of [the movie] as a little kids’ thing was shaped largely by forces like merchandise, toys and dolls and dresses and lunchboxes and backpacks,” says Bobby. “The movie was always something for everybody, otherwise it never would have been the phenomenon it became. So this show seeks to deepen—”
Kristen overlaps, “the original resonance that it had, that it was about a family in dysfunction, healing itself.”
Complementing what Kristen calls “Shakespearean undertones” in the storyline, there are 12 all-new songs — doubling the total from the film itself.
They’re woven into what’s essentially the same plot from the movie, but help emphasize some of the moments that were formerly told through the animation.
“On stage, you really are telling an emotional story to music, and you don’t have the benefit of close-ups or action sequences or complex plotting,” Bobby says. “And so what you need to do is take the moments that are really undoable onstage ... those are the moments we circled and chose to focus on and write the new songs.”
One example is the pivotal moment at the beginning of the movie when Elsa is being crowned, but clearly looks anxious about taking off her gloves during the ceremony. Without the close-up, the Lopezes needed to convey her anxiety through music.
“We wrote this big piece [Dangerous to Dream] that takes her from the beginning of the ceremony, through this moment where she almost loses it, through this really lovely change to the ball — which is all accomplished in one second, where the church changes into a party,” Bobby explains.
“And it’s gorgeous the way [director] Michael Grandage and [choreographer] Rob Ashford have staged it. We’re just thrilled with how it looks and how it feels and how much you’re with Elsa, how it creates a new moment where there wasn’t one, for emotional storytelling. Plus it adds to the movie, I think. Now it’s hard to go back to the movie and watch it without that song.”
The storytelling is also carried through visually, says Kristen, citing the sets and costumes by Christopher Oram. “Scandinavian motifs are all throughout the movie: the rosemaling, the brocade, the wood, and the same churches. He has just created it in the most lush, beautiful way, in every scene throughout this musical.”
Now that they’re back from the Academy Awards in Hollywood, the couple is excited to put all of their energy into the final stretch with Frozen, opening on March 22.
“We kind of took a second to go, ‘This is a gift,’” says Kristen of getting the opportunity to continue their work on the story, despite a sometimes-hectic journey, and the pressure to get it right for millions of fans.
“Just having a musical about two strong, complicated, nuanced women is an exciting thing to bring into the world.”