'Frozen' brings authentic Disney magic to Milwaukee, thrilling young audiences
If it is Disney, anything Disney, it creates a certain feeling. A distinct emotional connection with the audience. A sentimentality for childhood. A wonder for the future, all wrapped in storytelling and theatrical dazzle. That is Disney magic.
It arrived in Milwaukee this week in its most authentic form with the debut of Frozen at the Marcus Performing Arts Center. The production opened Thursday and brought the familiar story to life with impressive stage effects, Broadway-caliber vocals and an emerging cast — the perfect formula for connecting with young audiences.
First, the stage effects. On opening night, the audience was packed with kids of all ages, many in costumes of their favorite characters, excited to see how the beloved movies would translate to stage. As we waited for the curtain to rise, we gazed on a projection of the Frozen logo filling the stage, with wisps of animated ice swirling around it, hinting at the special effects to come.
As the curtain lifted and the story got underway, we were quickly introduced to Elsa and Anna as their younger selves and, like the movie, given a glimpse of Elsa's special power and capacity to control it. As her power grew, so did the theatrical effects, punctuating scenes with expertly choreographed lighting, large-scale set pieces, fog and sound effects.
Ice towers emerged with a wave of Elsa's hand, appearing with flashes of light and a booming orchestra. And throughout the show, the technical choreography remained unwaveringly in sync, carefully protecting the illusion for audiences. True Disney magic.
The main performances delighted as well, bringing the complex and challenging soundtrack to life. Favorites "Let It Go" and "Love Is an Open Door" hit all the right notes, with Caroline Bowman showing her Broadway chops as Elsa after previously starring in another Idina Menzel-originated role as Elphaba in Wicked. Lauren Nicole Chapman plays her sister, Anna, and kept the audience laughing with physical comedy while also delivering full-scale emotion as her sister's power — and the emotional stakes — grew.
Joining them on stage were the lovable, talking snowman Olaf and quasi-talking reindeer Sven, both portrayed by live puppeteers. In a show where the characters matter most, the puppets somehow made the world feel more real and earned roars of laughter from the audience.
As an adult viewer, the stage effects and vocals were the most impressive. The company supporting the main cast is on the younger side, with many making their debut in this tour. Some of the full ensemble numbers felt a bit tentative, as choreography and harmonies sometimes fell out of sync. But the more experienced performers anchored the younger cast in the Frozen world, even if it was, at times, a bit odd to hear them performing the "animated" vocal affect from the films. Then again, the show is aimed to kids, and the ones in the audience had a ball seeing their favorite characters come to life in voice and song.
Overall, it was a delight to see so many children at the theater. I overheard families explaining to costumed kids what to expect at their first show, while ushers happily passed out booster seats to the youngest theater goers. Then, as the curtain dropped on the first act and a stunning theatrical surprise was revealed, I heard a chorus of "whoaaaa" as kids turned back to their parents to explain, in amazement, what they just saw.
That's the magic Disney does best, and it's on full display on stage in Milwaukee.
Frozen runs now through April 16. You can find more information about the show on the Marcus Performing Arts Center website.