“Frozen” kicks off National Tour at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

Disney Theatrical Productions under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Frozen, the North American Tour, music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and book by Jennifer Lee directed by Michael Grandage with: Caroline Bowman (Elsa), Caroline Innerbichler (Anna), Mason Reeves (Kristoff), F. Michael Haynie (Olaf), Austin Colby (Hans), Jeremy Morse (Weselton)

For the first time in forever, Shea’s is back with LIVE theatre! Kicking off the 2021-22 season for shows is Disney’s Frozen: The Hit Broadway Musical. Anyone familiar with the animated film will be familiar with the show’s storyline: two young sisters, Anna (Victoria Hope Chan) and Elsa (Natalie Grace Chan), live in the country of Arendelle with their parents, the King (Kyle Lamar Mitchell) and Queen (Marina Kondo). The eldest sister, Elsa, has magical powers over ice and snow that enchant her younger sister until one night she loses control and shoots an icy blast straight at Anna. Concerned for Anna’s safety, the King and Queen decide it’s best to keep the sisters separated until Elsa learns to control her powers and to have all of Anna’s memories of her sister’s magic erased. The King and Queen set off on a journey to seek answers regarding their daughter’s powers but are swept away at sea and never return. Back at the palace, the sisters grow up isolated from each other and the kingdom until Elsa (Caroline Bowman) comes of age to be crowned the next queen of Arendelle. On Coronation Day, Anna (Caroline Innerbichler) gets carried away in the excitement of the celebration and meets Prince Hans (Austin Colby) who she immediately falls in love with. After their swift engagement, Elsa refuses to give her blessing to her sister’s marriage. A fight between the two causes Elsa to have an outburst of anger that sends her powers out of control and frightens the citizens of Arendelle. She flees the palace leaving Anna responsible to find her and end the eternal winter set off by her magic. 

First off, it felt amazing to be back in Shea’s and experience Frozen with an audience full of excited patrons and younger children. You are required to wear a mask throughout the entire performance regardless of your vaccination status, but I found that wasn’t uncomfortable in the slightest as it’s easy to get lost in the world of Frozen and forget your surroundings. I was immediately impressed with the young cast opening the show. Natalie and Victoria Chan performed the Tuesday evening show I attended and were absolute pros onstage. They had the audience engaged and laughing right off the bat. Later when adult Anna started singing “For the First Time in Forever”, I began to tear up. Innerbichler is the perfect Anna and truly embodies the character in every way. Her voice is stunning, and the song really resonates with a lot of us now as we’ve all felt shut away from people and “normal life” throughout the pandemic. Bowman is an absolute powerhouse as Elsa and brings such strength to her pieces. I found it amusing that in real life, Caroline Bowman is married to Austin Colby or Prince Hans. 

Mason Reeves brings a refreshing take on Kristoff and is immediately likeable. He appears with his infamous sidekick, Sven, who is played by two different actors depending on the performance due to the physical demands of the role. On Tuesday evening, Evan Strand did a phenomenal job with the body contortion and puppetry required for the role that allows the effect of a realistic reindeer onstage. I truly hope the show has a traveling chiropractor specifically for Sven! Olaf (F. Michael Haynie) was another character using puppetry. Haynie provided comic relief and stole the show during “In Summer”. 

In addition to the well-known songs from the movie, the musical offers new numbers to fill the show and add to our understanding of character development. One of my favorite additions is “What Do You Know About Love?” sung by Anna and Kristoff. A strange addition I could have done without was the song “Hygge” that is sung primarily by Oaken (Michael Milkanin) who is then joined by Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, and the Family & Friends from the sauna. While this song was fun, it mainly felt like an unnecessary filler with a strange concept and odd use of implied nudity. Because this is a Disney show, rules are stricter when it comes to things like this. When the Family & Friends appear to dance nude out of the sauna covered only by leaves and branches, they are actually wearing mesh, skin-toned body suits to cover any bare skin. While I’m sure the effect is more believable farther away, from closer up it was very strange and noticeable.  

While enjoying this show, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between Frozen and Wicked. After all, Idina Menzel, the voice of Elsa in the animated film, was also the original Elphaba on Broadway. Oddly enough, Caroline Bowman who portrays Elsa in this performance also previously played Elphaba on Broadway. Like Elphaba, Elsa has powers she can’t control that others view as frightening and dangerous. She ends Act 1 with the famous “Let it Go” which can be likened to Wicked’s Act 1 closer of “Defying Gravity”. Both are incredible, show-stopping numbers involving high belts, stunning visual effects, and acceptance of one’s own power and destiny. The mob format of Hans and his men coming to put an end to Elsa is reminiscent of Wicked’s “March of the Witch Hunters”. The focal point of Frozen is the relationship between Elsa and Anna which could be related to the friendship of Elphaba and Glinda. All of these similarities are very interesting to examine and may be the reason certain elements of Frozen are so successful. It makes sense to model a show after one so wildly successful that it has been on Broadway for 18 years. Frozen is Disney’s Wicked

A final element I wanted to discuss was the extravagance of the show’s visuals. Elsa’s ice powers are conveyed through a combination of projection, fake snow/confetti, and set pieces. The overall impact is mesmerizing and includes hundreds of thousands of glittering crystals. Elsa’s quick costume change in “Let it Go” had the audience cheering mid-song and is a spectacular reveal. Overall, Frozen: The Hit Broadway Musical is sure to delight Disney-fanatics of all ages and provides a little bit of something for everyone. While I suspect it may not go on to become a top hit like Disney’s The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast, it’s sure to stick around for years to come bringing magic to audiences everywhere. 

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Frozen runs until September 24, 2021 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: Disney’s ‘Aladdin’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The North American Touring Cast of Disney’s “Aladdin.”

Wow. Disney does it yet again. Spectacle, glitz, glamor, fantastic effects, brilliant costumes. To say that I was blown away would be an understatement. Disney’s “Aladdin”, now playing at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre is pure magic. It’s an experience. It’s a show that has no dull parts. It’s a show that will rival the longevity of “The Lion King.” Look out ‘Phantom’ I think there is a new sheriff in town.

. . .pure magic. . .a show that will rival the longevity of “The Lion King.”

‘Aladdin,’ based on the highest grossing film of 1992 (that’s right), tells the tale of a street rat who crosses paths with a beautiful and confident princess, who by law, must marry royal blood. After he is sent on a mission to retrieve a magic lamp, Aladdin (Clinton Greenspan), finds a Genie (Michael James Scott) and is granted three wishes. His wish? To become a prince and to win Princess Jasmine’s (Lissa deGuzman) hand in marriage. Sounds traditional right?

Having followed the Broadway production’s journey to Broadway, I was anxious for it to visit Buffalo so that I could see the magic for myself. It lives up to all the New York hype and then some. I think I found a new favorite musical.

All your favorite songs from the film are in the show, including “Arabian Nights,”  “A Whole New World,” and my personal favorite (yeah, I’ve sang it at karaoke and it might be one of my audition songs) “Friend Like Me.” Alan Menken returns to create new music with lyrics by Howard Ashman, Tim Rice, and Chad Beguelin. The new songs feel as though they were taken right from the film and complement the songs that we all remember.

The breathtaking sets designed by Bob Crowley and the flashy and glitzy costumes created by Gregg Barnes are characters in their own right, and wow you just as much as the actors on stage do. The magic carpet, is truly magic and you will be scratching your head in astonishment as you see it fly before your very eyes.

Leading the show is the very talented Clinton Greenspan as Aladdin. He sounds just like the animated film character but makes the character his own. He has great leading man qualities, an exciting confidence, but he also possesses a vulnerability that makes his performance ever so more believable. He does not disappoint.

Michael James Scott brings down the house as Genie. Literally. His performance of “Friend Like Me” actually stopped the show and resulted in a standing ovation. I’ve heard legends that standing ovations happen during show stopping numbers, but I never experienced it myself until today. Scott is funny, entertaining, and is a huge personality that you would expect from a role like this. You will absolutely love him.

Lissa deGuzman as Jasmine is perfect. deGuzman has one of the prettiest voices I have ever heard, and she will make little girls everywhere wish that they were her. Her performance of “A Whole New World” is spot on. She is rightfully cast in this role.

Jonathan Wier is hilariously evil as Jafar in this production. Along with Jay Paranada’s Iago, the two create master plans that we all love to watch. The comedic duo keeps the villainous laughter that we would expect from them going all throughout the performance.

Zach Bencal, Philippe Arroyo, and Jed Feder as Babkak, Omar, and Kassim respectfully are very entertaining and they help push the story forward in fun and exciting ways.

Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography bring this animated phenomenon to life on the stage. You will be brought to your feet in excitement. Go see this show!

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes with one 15-Minute intermission.

Disney’s “Aladdin” runs until August 19, 2018 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

First Look: ‘Aladdin’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

Disney Theatrical Productions under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Aladdin, the US tour, music by Alan Menken, lyrics by Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, book and additional lyrics by Chad Beguelin, opening night April 19 at Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago, starring: Adam Jacobs (Aladdin), Anthony Murphy (Genie), Isabelle McCalla (Jasmine), Zach Bencal (Babkak), Mike Longo (Kassim), Philippe Arroyo (Omar), Jonathan Weir (Jafar), Reggie de Leon (Iago) and JC Montgomery (Sultan) directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw

Millennials finally have disposable income, and when it comes to the nostalgia of yesteryear, we are first in line to see anything that will take us back to our childhood. The 1992 Disney film, “Aladdin” lives in nostalgia as one of those films that makes us feel good. It is funny, we remember the songs, and we love the characters. It is only fitting that one of the most successful Disney films of all time be made into a Broadway musical. A musical that will be coming to Buffalo, August 8 – 19.

When it comes to well known properties like that of Disney films, the audience has many expectations that need to be upheld. “Aladdin” is no different. “The show comes from well known source material,” says Jonathan Weir, who will be playing Jafar on the tour, “we talk about it in rehearsals that we have a certain responsibility as actors to uphold expectations and make sure that we give the audience a show that they will absolutely love.”

The National Tour of “Aladdin” is not a scaled down production, the Broadway show is literally delivered to every city it visits. “The production quality is awesome,” says Weir, “Nothing is scaled down. There are 350 costumes and tons of magic. Our audiences definitely get the quality of show that Disney is known for.”

Weir has a long history working for the House of Mouse, and was excited to get a chance to play another Disney villain. “I worked for Disney for the last 15 years, as a stand by for various tours and on Broadway. When I learned that they were casting for the National Tour of ‘Aladdin’ I walked my resume to the stage door of the New Amsterdam Theatre. It was very 1940’s of me,” laughs Weir. He was a standby for Scar and Pumba in “The Lion King.”

The North American Touring Cast of Disney’s “Aladdin.”

“Over the course of a few years, I had auditioned a few times, and I was offered the part of Jafar,” says Weir, “I was able to create the signature voice that is so well known.”

In a story that is so well known, one wonders if there are certain parameters that an actor needs to follow when working on a Disney piece. “We were encouraged to make the characters our own, and to bring our own humanity to them,” says Weir.

Weir laughs that he has been cast as two well known villains, Scar from “The Lion King” and now Jafar. “The two have certain similarities, they are both second in command, and they do whatever it takes to get power, but this also causes both of their demises. It is a joy to play the antagonist!”

Audiences are sure to enjoy this production. “This isn’t a children’s show by any means. Children love it, Millennials love it, everyone can find something to enjoy about this story. Nothing can replace the true theatre experience,” says Weir, “the power of laughter is magical, and there is a lot of magic in this show.”

“Aladdin” opens on August 8 and runs until August 19, 2018. It is performed at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.