“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.

‘Hello, Dolly!’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

Carolee Carmello and the company of Hello, Dolly! PHOTOGRAPH JULIETA CERVANTES

Sometimes, the only exposure one has to a work of theatre is from a community theatre group’s best attempts at pulling it off. Big musicals usually get the short end of the stick when a group decides to pull out all the stops and present it. Not saying that the productions are poor, but just saying that subtleties and nuances are lost. It isn’t until you see a big splashy production, with a cast that fully understands the material, with direction that makes the jokes get all the laughs, that you can fully appreciate what you have witnessed. This is ‘Hello, Dolly!’ for me. After last evening’s opening night performance at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre, I am now a fan!

A full size train, majestic sets, spectacular costumes, a powerful orchestra, and comedic delivery that keeps you in stitches, this production of ‘Hello, Dolly!’ is perfect. Carolee Carmello plays Dolly Levi to a tee. Yucking it up with the audience, filling the rafters with her beautiful voice, and bringing a sense of humor to the character that is always lost in many productions I have seen; seeing Ms. Carmello work is worth the price of the ticket itself.

‘Hello, Dolly!’ is the Jerry Herman musical, that tells the tale of the con-artist swindler Dolly Levi, who loves getting involved in everyone’s business, making things happen, and who is currently seeking a new husband, after her late husband passed away.

Supported by a fantastic ensemble, including John Bolton as Horance Vandergelder, Daniel Beeman as Cornelius, Sean Burns as Barnaby, and Karen Elliott as Irene Molloy, this show is strong from beginning to end.

John Bolton is fantastic as the cheapskate Vandergelder. Playing the over the top nuances and still grounding the character in reality, Bolton is loved by the audience. His act two song “Penny In My Pocket” is a great way to get you back into Dolly’s world after intermission. 

Daniel Beeman and Sean Burns are comedic powerhouses as Cornelius and Barnaby. The slapstick that they bring to the Hat Shop scene is heavily structured but so effortlessly pulled off by the duo. 

Karen Elliott also has the comedic chops to keep up with this cast and brings wonderful laughs to the Hat Shop Scene, as well as while the boys are wooing her to Harmonia Gardens for dinner.

Other highlights include the dancing waiter scene, which blows my mind and I cannot stop thinking about it, Vandergelder’s fantastic shop set, and the beautifully painting scrims that help tell this story. As an art teacher, I always appreciate a wonderfully painted backdrop!

I loved every second of this show, and you will too. The only downside is it is a little long, almost three hours, but it is so entertaining, you won’t believe how fast time flies! Get downtown and see it! You won’t regret it.

Running Time: 2 Hours 45 Minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

‘Hello, Dolly!’ runs until March 15, 2020 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.