Caissie Levy and Patti Murin, the Broadway veterans hired by Disney Theatrical Productions to lead the upcoming stage adaptation of Disney’s blockbuster animated film Frozen, both say the highly anticipated new musical will surprise people with its universal appeal to all audiences.
“There is something for everybody,” Levy said. “We have discovered so many more layers to examine within this story that can only happen in the theater. A lot of adult themes are explored. It’s not just for kids.”
Murin added that adapting the 85-minute film into a full two-act Broadway production with more than twice as much music gives the performers the opportunity to dig deeper into their characters’ storylines.
“This is a complete show,” Murin said. “With the addition of so much new material, we have the freedom to expand and to go deeper than you are able to in a film.” To director Michael Grandage, it’s about emphasizing “the beating heart of the story,” she said.
“I think what’s so brilliant about what the writers and Michael and [choreographer] Rob Ashford are doing is that, while they are using the film as a template, they are not trying to re-create what we saw on the screen for the stage,” Levy said. “This is not a replica of the movie. It’s a wholly new work of art. People who love the movie will want to buy a ticket to the musical because they love the movie, but once they are in the theatre, they are going to have a completely new experience.”
Great care has gone into the stage adaptation, said Levy, because with great opportunity also comes royal pressure.
“This is not just any Disney show. It’s Frozen,” said Levy. “Elsa and Anna mean so much to so many people. The weight of that is both a huge responsibility and a huge honor.”
Frozen earned $1.2 billion at cinemas worldwide, and that was before it was made available for home viewing. The soundtrack became the highest selling album of 2014, moving more than 10 million units. The New Yorker said Frozen “has transcended the commercial realm and captured the culture.”
Levy totally gets it. The Oscar-winning anthem “Let It Go” has become so pervasive, Levy said, that her 22-month-old is already singing the song in his diapers.
So how does one go about further developing a character for the stage who comes from a film that is already so ingrained in the hearts and minds of its audience?
“It’s tricky,” Levy said with a laugh. “I think the reason Elsa resonates with so many people is that her struggle is so relatable: to figure out how to be who she really is and accept and own that and love herself in spite of her flaws. She is trying to shed the pressure of other people’s expectations of her and figure out how to celebrate her flaws as part of who she is. And that is what I am trying to focus on as the actor playing Elsa. A lot of people have expectations about how she should be portrayed, but I am trying to take a page from ‘Let It Go’ and get all of that out of my head.”
Frozen is the story of two princesses, one cursed with the power to control and manipulate ice. When Elsa accidentally injures her sister, it sets off a series of betrayals, treacheries, and curses that can only be healed with an act of true love. But unlike most fairy tales, the heroic act that saves the day in Frozen doesn’t have anything to do with a handsome prince; it’s all about sisterhood. And Levy and Murin insist that the royal sisters at the heart of Frozen aren’t your typical princesses.
“These women save each other. They’re each other’s heroine,” said Levy. “It’s about women being supportive of each other,” Murin added. “There are men who try to say no; their response is, ‘I’m going to do it anyway.’”
Levy said it is crucial for women in the audience to see their own individual power — whatever that power might be — as a beautiful thing.
“Elsa’s power doesn’t come from anger, it comes from fear. It’s all about harnessing that power and taking those things we don’t love about ourselves and trying to see the positive side of it,” Levy said. The essential message of Frozen, Murin added, is “accepting who you are — and not being afraid to be who you are.”
Levy already has a pretty good idea of the theatrical experience audiences are in for when Frozen begins performances at the legendary St. James Theatre on February 22.
“I think it’s going to really surprise people,” she said. “Yes, it is going to be visually spectacular. Yes, it is going to sound incredible. Yes, it’s going to have all of the things that you want out of a Disney production. But it is also going to have so much depth and heart and soul.
“Nothing about this is frothy. What you will see is every important moment in the lives of these characters. You are going to come away having experienced something unique and new. I can’t wait to shatter expectations about what Frozen is.”
Top photo: John Riddle, Caissie Levy, Patti Murin, and Jelani Alladin (Andrew Eccles).