It sounds like such an easy gig: Make a Broadway musical out of “Frozen,” the Disney animated smash that already had a score filled with stage-ready songs.
But Broadway types know that a theatrical adaptation of a beloved movie has to both satisfy the fans by giving them what they love about the property, and also stand alone as a stage musical with new material that might surprise but never feels out of place. Disney’s walking that tightrope with “Frozen,” which gives audiences plenty of “Let It Go” but also some “Monster” and “What Do You Know About Love?” — to name a few of the new tunes producers have begun to introduce to fans in advance of the musical’s March 22 opening.
“What Do You Know About Love?,” for instance, is the central element in a sequence that reimagines the meet-cute of Anna and Kristoff (the bickering couple-to-be played onstage by Patti Murin and Jelani Alladin), changing it from the action-packed wolf chase of the film to a bantering tune that sees the duo cross a perilously icy rope bridge. Further switching things up: the fact that Anna isn’t in one of her familiar costumes from the movie; she’s wearing warm men’s clothes provided by Kristoff.
“That’s the first time where we’re shifting the audience’s expectations there,” said director Michael Grandage, who’s bringing “Frozen” to the stage with composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and book writer Jennifer Lee, the Oscar-winning creators of the film. “The song gives us an opportunity to bring out the characters’ stubbornness,” he noted, “and it also gives us a chance, through a moment where both of them are in peril and then saved, where we can see each of them observe that this person is more than I thought they were.” In that, he added, are found the first hints of the romance that will eventually blossom.
That sequence on the bridge is one of several changes the show makes to the movie’s template, of which the most prominent is the reimagining of the film’s rock-like trolls as elven “hidden folk” drawn from real-life Scandinavian folklore. That shift has required some fine-tuning: A hidden-folk narrator, who relayed the events of the story in the musical’s pre-Broadway bow in Denver, has been excised. “I think we confused too many people,” Grandage said. “I was giving audiences a double-whammy, giving them this new thing in the hidden folk and then giving them something else new with the narrator.”
Also since the Denver run last summer, one song has been cut, and another one — the finale — has been rewritten. The opening sequence has been entirely reworked, so that a whole lot of storytelling and song happens even before the first break for applause.
Changes were made for the stage for a number of reasons — one of which was the social climate in which the show is opening. “With where we are politically in the world, talking about women in society, here we are doing a musical about two very empowered women,” Grandage noted. “We wanted to bring those themes out even more.”
And a recent change for the Broadway version will have audiences humming on their way out the door: There’s now a reprise of “Let It Go.”