There was a raucous, celebratory mood on the crowded sidewalk outside the Orpheum Theatre on Saturday, the venue’s first opening night for a touring Broadway musical since COVID emerged. Cheers sounded loudly, and there was even the occasional shout or honk from a passing car.
The noise wasn’t coming from the kids in Elsa dresses waiting to see Frozen, though: it was coming from the line of Cleveland Browns fans waiting to pregame at the neighboring MacKenzie Pub ahead of Sunday’s Vikings matchup.
Once the diligently masked and vax-checked theatergoers made it past the orange-clad cordon and an inflatable linebacker, though, they manifested an energy beyond any Super Bowl win. (Not that Minnesotans will ever know.) Imagine the enthusiasm Minneapolis brings to any ordinary ovation, almost inevitably standing; now add a year and a half of pent-up passion, a hometown hero in a starring role, and a closing number urging listeners to “let it go, let it go; the fear and cold are gone!”
This crowd wasn’t just on its feet for Frozen, it was practically levitating.
While a Disney adaptation may not be the most innovative way to fill a musical stage, Frozen proved perfectly apt for Broadway’s return to Hennepin: family-friendly comfort entertainment, with movie characters coming magically to life as viewers finally let go of the screens that provided safety and satiety during the seemingly endless pandemic winter. Frozen in particular was always going to do well in Minnesota, where “Let It Go” (“the cold never bothered me anyway”) could be our state anthem.
What’s more, this production’s Anna is played by Caroline Innerbichler, a Minnesota actor who’s long been showing audiences at houses like the Ordway, the Chanhassen, and the Guthrie that she has exactly what it takes to be a singing, dancing Disney princess. Local fans who’ve been waiting a long time to show Innerbichler their love in the postponed production let loose with cheers and applause when she appeared onstage; at curtain call, the actor made a heart shape with her hands to return the affection.
Of course, any actor is glad to be in a show that’s working, and Frozen certainly does work. Disney didn’t waste time hustling its 2013 smash film to the stage, and Frozen hit Broadway in 2018 as a musical justifiably confident in its material. (Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez wrote the music and lyrics, with book by Jennifer Lee.) Under the direction of Michael Grandage, Frozen knows what it needs to get right — an eerily dextrous reindeer (Collin Baja, alternating in the role with Evan Strand), a picture-perfect Olaf (performed as a puppet by F. Michael Haynie), a lightning-quick costume change for Queen Elsa (Caroline Bowman) — and it doesn’t overdo things where a simple approach will work.
One of the show’s most crowd-pleasing moments, for example, is a simple pas de deux between Anna and Hans (Austin Colby) during “Love Is an Open Door.” Literally just two people singing and dancing: with Rob Ashford’s fun choreography and a couple of talented performers, that’s really all it takes…even if the song isn’t all that great. Later, Innerbichler gets to deliver an absolutely epic old-school stage punch that works just as well.
A gratifying aspect of Frozen is that although there is a romance plot, it’s fundamentally about the relationship between two Scandinavian sisters. This production certainly highlights the contrast between young Anna and her tortured older sister: Innerbichler comes across like the spunky star of a Disney Channel after-school show, while Bowman in her ice palace, covered in sequins with nowhere to go, looks like she’s starting to realize she’ll never get a daytime Emmy.
Although Frozen is about as engaging, for kids, as you’ll find in a full-length stage musical, this show also has a weirdly frisky energy that starts with a handsy love connection between Anna and Hans and culminates in a full-on bodysuit burlesque among the comically numerous patrons of the sauna Oaken (Michael Milkanin) runs next to his outfitting shop. That number, “Hygge,” opens the second act, and it’s pretty much downhill from there as the plot complications pile up and the chorus frantically sings exposition. By that point, though, the show has the audience securely in its fur-lined pocket.
As familiar as this story will be to most attendees, part of the enjoyment of seeing a show like this live is hearing the reactions from the minority of audience members who manage to walk in, so to speak, cold. On Saturday they gasped when Elsa weaponized glitter; when the villain was revealed, one woman stage-whispered to her companion, “What a dick!” Yeah, don’t swipe right on a Disney villain, even if the next guy (Mason Reeves) has a reindeer in every selfie.
Disney’s Frozen runs through October 20 at Orpheum Theatre.