Last week Disney's mega-musical, Frozen, opened its out-of-town tryout in Denver. Gearing up for its eventual Broadway opening in March 2018, Frozen is by far one of the most anticipated musicals of the season. Given its following and the lackluster buzz of other new musicals(let's be honest), it's also favorited for a slew of Tony nominations.
But following opening night, the reviews of the productions weren't exactly stellar. In fact, some could say they were quite worrisome.
The Denver Post's Joanne Ostrow said, "By the time Act 1 closes with the anthem “Let It Go,” ably delivered by Caissie Levy, we’ve witnessed an over-abundance of new tunes and a jumble of mixed messages.More derivative and less daring than previous Disney screen-to-stage transfers, “Frozen” is fun but not transporting...The parts work. It’s the whole that doesn’t rise above the sum."
Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune said, "This very cautious and emotionally underwhelming show should be — and could be — a whole lot better."
Jesse Green of the New York Times said, "By the middle of that act, with new songs like “Monster” for Elsa and “Colder by the Minute” for the hardworking ensemble, and with the never-very-logical plot rushing toward its conclusion, plenty of the Elsas in the audience had fallen asleep, perhaps in self-defense."
The show did receive some raving praise. Variety's Lisa Kennedy said, "if Disney Theatrical Productions’ aim was to age up the demographic of the animated blockbuster’s stage adaptation, they’ve succeeded."
The Hollywood Reporter's Deborah Wilker also had some nice things to say, "Can Disney turn it into the next super-smash? The odds look good." but she also called some elements of the show, "problematic".
So what should we take away from this? Should we be worried that the show isn't getting rave reviews right off the bat? Let's take both sides.
Yes, be worried
With a development budget of reportedly $25-$30 million and a likely weekly cost hovering around $1 million, Disney(even being as rich as they are) needs this to be a hit. While mixed reviews won't be a factor with the child demographic, they certainly will be for the adult one. Resale ticket prices are already reaching into the thousands and the face value of tickets are going in the high hundreds as well. In fact, if you go to their website, tickets available in June in the last row of the theatre, are going for $184, each.
No matter how you slice it, that's a pricey night out.
If reviews are mixed, it might tell casual audiences and tourists that their money might be better spent elsewhere, like at Wicked (which is essentially the same show) or other Disney products like The Lion King and Aladdin. There are also going to be a slew of other family-friendly shows with cheaper tickets to choose from, so expect to see strong numbers from SpongeBob SquarePants and Charlie & the Chocolate Factory.
And for those who might travel from out of town, they might be better off going to see the truncated version, Frozen Live! at Disneyland. I hear that many of the effects used in that stage show are similarly being used in the Broadway production. So for a single day ticket to Disneyland, you can see an abridged Frozen at no extra cost.
Also, Disney musicals don't have a great track record when it comes to initial mixed reviews. Both Tarzan and The Little Mermaid both had their reported issues before their openings and both flopped.
The other thing to consider is that what is being criticized in these reviews are elements that are hard to correct. We're not talking about costume or set designs, we're talking about central themes and character flaws. In order to fix those, you have to dig into the story and rework these characters which Disney probably has some strict guidelines on how far you can go with that.
So if you're a mega-Frozen fan, be worried.
No, everything's fine
First of all, take a breath, It's an out-of-town tryout. The purpose of these things is to work out the kinks and get it ready for Broadway. Keep in mind that previews in New York don't start until February, so Disney's not under the gun to fix this thing overnight.
Frozen is the highest grossing animated film of all time, raking in $1.3 Billion in 2013 and its ride in Orlando has a two-hour wait time. So there is definitely an audience chomping at the bits to see this on stage.
Also with the release of the "Olaf's Adventure" film short in November and Frozen 2 on November 27, 2019, the musical is definitely going to be aided by all of that.
While critics might have criticized the messaging and relationships in the show:
1. Kids aren't going to care.
2. Every critic conceded that the show will satisfy the fan-base.
Also, not a single reviewer really bashed the new songs or performances by the cast, so no worries there. And comparing it to The Lion King is unfair because they're two completely different shows and The Lion King was a groundbreaker when it comes to costuming and staging, which is still unmatched. But given the praise for Frozen's design, we can expect at least a couple of guaranteed Tony noms.
So chill out, Frozen will be just fine.
Photo: Andrew Eccels