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FROZEN brings glamour, cash flow, and snow to downtown Buffalo.  Only four shows left!

Question: who’s the real hero in this musical?  My answer: Anna!

THE BASICS: The national re-launch of the cut-short-by-Covid national touring production of the Broadway musical FROZEN presented by Disney Theatrical Productions opened on September 10 and runs for an additional week through September 24, Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main Street (1-800-745-3000). www.sheas.org  Only four shows left.  Note the half-hour earlier than usual start time on Friday.  Runtime: 2 hours 15 minutes with one 20 minute intermission

Merch is for sale in the lobby, but not concessions, so there’s never a reason to lower your mask.  For the remainder of FROZEN Shea’s posts: “As we raise the curtain for Disney’s Frozen, all patrons, volunteers, and staff are required to wear a mask regardless of vaccination status. Masks are required at all times – upon arrival, performance, and departure.”  So there is no vaccination requirement for FROZEN.  However, after FROZEN, as explained in detail here you’ll need at least one dose of vaccine for TOOTSIE (October 10-16).

THUMBNAIL SKETCH:  Yes there are a few changes from the animated feature and some new songs, but Elsa and her kid sister Anna are still separated as children to protect Anna; Elsa still runs off to the wilderness to protect her kingdom and family from her negative behavior; and Anna, accompanied by a goofy trio of sidekicks (a smelly mountain man, a shaggy and smelly reindeer, and a snowman who dreams of a summer vacation on the beach… really…) still goes to save her.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION:  As one patron was overheard to ask: “I wonder how many computers they need to make this show happen?”  I don’t know, but that question let’s you know that you get one high-tech wizardly effect after another as the snow swirls and the ice freezes.  Perhaps the greatest special effect takes place in the middle of “Let It Go” where in a flash (literally) Elsa changes from her forest green inauguration outfit into a shimmery, icy gown.  Note: during that song DO NOT look away.  Don’t look at your child, your program, your watch, or anything but the stage.

And there’s also good old-fashioned puppetry in the four foot tall snowman Olaf (voiced and manipulated by F. Michael Haynie dressed in all white) and the reindeer Sven played by the talented (but completely covered up) Evan Strand on Tuesdays (the night I went) and Thursdays.  As explained to Theater Talk on WBFO (listen here) by Mason Reeves (who plays the mountain man Kristoff) the actors (including Collin Baja) who play the reindeer are using arm stilts for the front legs, and basically are holding a plank exercise all the time they are on stage.  It’s a very realistic effect.

Sven (Evan Strand) and Kristoff (Mason Reeves) rehearsing in early August in Buffalo

Without a doubt, Caroline Bowman as Elsa has the voice, the looks, and the acting chops that make her a Broadway star.  But, her character is, well, kinda cold and distant, ya know?  On the other hand, Caroline Innerbichler, as Anna, gets to sing, act, clown, mime, pratfall, then get up and and dance like nobody’s business.  When she dances, it’s with Austin Colby, and that’s pretty slick, too.  By the way, Austin Colby (Hans) is married in real life to Caroline Bowman (Elsa) but that’s not the only married couple in this show.  The music and lyrics are by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and her husband Robert Lopez (AVENUE Q, BOOK OF MORMON).  Now that’s a power couple.

Hans and Anna, Austin Colby and Caroline Innerbichler

So, Anna does all that she does and even gets to animate the snowman (or at least his head in one scene) while Haynie, off stage, manages the voice.  She’s bubbly, warm, accessible, fun, and, ahem… SHE IS THE HERO OF THIS MUSICAL (he shouted from the rooftops).

As explained by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces, the true hero doesn’t think she’s a hero at all but is compelled to leave her comfortable home and venture forth into danger to ultimately bring back a gift for her people, kingdom, shire, village, planet.  For Anna that gift will be not only getting her sister back in her life but also restoring the true Queen of Arendelle to her throne.

How else do we know that Anna is the hero?  Because heros never go it alone.

How else do we know that Anna is the hero?  Because heros never go it alone.  They have to have allies and sidekicks.  It’s just the way it is.  For Frodo it was Sam; for Luke Skywalker it was the droids, Han Solo, and Chewbacca.  Sidekicks have to be a little weird because, well… they’re not heroic.  So for Anna it’s not only the snowman and the reindeer but also the forest people, Kristoff’s people, who have powerful juju and (spoiler alert) even bring Anna back from the dead.  And don’t forget all those reversals of fortune that Anna undergoes.  That’s right out of the pamphlet “What to expect when you’re a hero.”  She gets zapped not once but twice by big sister and the guy she thought was Mr. Right turns out to be Mr.-oh-so-wrong.

Elsa, on the other hand, is just a problem.  Not a problem like Maria, in SOUND OF MUSIC.  No, a real problem.  “A danger to herself and others” is a phrase that comes to mind.  She’s like the addict in the family who says “I can fix it myself.”  What Elsa needs is tough love.  An intervention sort of.  An act of true love by her tough little sister willing to risk everything.

And, because this is a musical, it works.  Peace and prosperity are restored.  Everyone, except the bad guys, lives happily ever after.  But, even though we were surrounded by a sea of Elsas in blue sparkling dresses, there was one brave Anna in the audience (dressed in green) the night we went.  Good for you.  May you live long and prosper.

Lead image: L-R Elsa and Anna, Caroline Bowman and Caroline Innerbichler

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

Peter Hall continues trying to figure out how "it" all works. For over 20 years, as a producer and program host on WNED Classical (94.5 FM), he's conducted over 1,000 interviews with artists as he asks them to explain, in layman's terms, "what's the big picture here?" These days Peter can be heard regularly on Sunday afternoons from 1 to 5.

On “Theater Talk” (heard Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO 88.7 FM) his favorite question of co-host Anthony Chase is simply "What's goin' on?" As mentioned recently in Buffalo Spree magazine, Peter's "Buffalo Rising reviews are the no-holds barred 'everyman's' take."

A member of Buffalo's Artie Awards Committee, Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty-five years he was an adjunct professor for Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

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