“Making the tough calls when creating a new Broadway musical is never easy, but this was especially painful,” said Thomas Schumacher, the president and producer of Disney Theatrical Productions, in a statement. “Alex Timbers is one of the most exciting and innovative theater directors I know, and we’ve proudly worked with him from my support of the early development of ‘Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson’ through our work together on ‘Peter and the Starcatcher.’ Though we have chosen to go in another direction with this role, we are committed to seeing ‘Frozen’s’ tremendous theatrical potential brought to life onstage.”
Disney has not yet found a replacement for Timbers, and it’s not clear whether the change will affect the previously announced production timeline. “Frozen” has been scheduled for a pre-Broadway run at Denver Center for the Performing Arts in the summer 2017, ahead of a spring 2018 opening on Broadway.
Creative differences can be something of a catch-all for explaining shakeups in creative teams. In this case, it could be feasible that Timbers’ irreverent, edgy aesthetic (as seen in shows such as “The Robber Bridegroom” and “Here Lies Love”) didn’t jibe with the expectations for a big-budget, mass-appeal spectacle from DTP, which takes a strong creative hand in its shows. On the other hand, left-field creatives like Julie Taymor (“The Lion King”), Bob Crowley (the Tony-winning designer who directed “Tarzan) and Francesca Zambello (“The Little Mermaid”) have all arrived on Broadway with Disney’s backing.
Timbers himself co-directed “Peter and the Starcatcher,” the stage show developed by Disney on the way to a Tony-winning Broadway run (which was produced by an independent duo of lead producers in collaboration with Disney). “Frozen” is a much larger production with far higher stakes for Disney; both DTP and Timbers are keeping mum on the exact reason for the exit.
Earlier this year, Timbers directed a developmental lab of “Frozen” with a crew of actors that included Betsy Wolfe (“Bullets Over Broadway,” the upcoming “Falsettos”) as Elsa, Patti Murin (“Lysistrata Jones”) as Anna and Okieriete Onaodowan (“Hamilton”) as Kristoff. (Actors who appear in a show during development work don’t necessarily appear in the subsequent premiere.)
A change in directors can be a dramatic shake-up for a project, but it’s not unheard of on Broadway. Stage musicals ranging from “Hairspray” (which switched from Rob Marshall to Jack O’Brien) to “The Book of Mormon” (directed by Jason Moore before Casey Nicholaw took over) to “Sister Act” (on which Jerry Zaks took over from Peter Schneider) all changed directors midstream. The same is happening on Warner Bros.’ incoming Broadway version of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which was staged by Sam Mendes on the West End but will arrive on Broadway with O’Brien in the director’s chair.
The “Frozen” creative team also lost choreographer Peter Darling in recent months, although the reason given for that switch — Darling’s inability to be present during crucial development phases of “Frozen” — is apparently true, according to insiders. Christopher Gattelli (“Newsies”) is said to be in talks to join the team in his stead.
As it stands now, “Frozen,” adapted by movie co-creators Jennifer Lee, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, is on the books for Denver next summer, with exact run dates still to be set. The precise details for the spring 2018 engagement on Broadway have yet to be inked; the industry widely assumes that the show will end up at the St. James Theater, but that hasn’t been officially confirmed.