Frozen Jr. enchants and educates
Summer acting studio teaches drama skills and life lessons while putting on a great show
Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American
It’s already been six years since the Disney animated musical Frozen took America and the rest of the world by snowstorm. Released in 41 languages, it was an immediate box office hit, grossing more than any animated film in history.
With its 3-D animation, 2,000 snowflake shapes, catchy tunes, and a storyline to melt your heart, it’s no wonder that a sing-along version soon came along, followed by sequel films, an array of home media, a smash hit Broadway musical, and now Frozen, Jr., a musical version created for student productions.
As a Nordic, you are immediately drawn to Frozen, as it takes you into the winter wonderland world of the North—and much has been written about the Scandinavian connection. The story is a loose adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen, and the settings originate in Norway.
In the film, we can recognize actual places, including the historic wharf in Bergen, Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, and Akershus Fortress in Oslo. There are stave churches, trolls, Viking ships, fjord horses, folk costumes, and even lutefisk. Much was inspired by Sámi culture, including folk music tones, the rhythmic Sámi yoiking, as we recently learned from Sissel during her performance in Salt Lake City (see “Sissel sings from the heart in Salt Lake City,” Aug. 9: www.norwegianamerican.com/arts/sissel-sings-from-heart).
A child at heart, I loved Frozen from the beginning, and when I heard Seattle’s Taproot Theatre would be holding a summer youth acting studio culminating in a performance, I couldn’t stay away. I wanted to hear songs like “Do You Want to Build A Snowman?” and “Let it Go!” sung live on stage, and I was curious how the film would be adapted to the stage. I had read about the special stage and sound effects of the Broadway production, but a student musical?
As I was to experience at the Taproot Theatre, even with minimal stage props and costumes, it can work very well. I learned that Frozen, Jr. can live from its script, choreography, music, and youthful exuberance. I sat on the edge of my seat for an hour as I watched a cast of boys and girls put on a show that could vie with other professional productions.
With no fancy snowflakes, the cold blues and whites of the lighting could create the atmosphere, as actors shivered on stage in the winter scenes. They wore an interesting blend of traditional and modern costume: the girls had their braids and ponytails; Elsa was beautiful in her icy blue taffeta gown and tiara; Kristoff was adorable in his Nordic knit cap; Sven had his antlers and fur vest; and Olaf stuffed his tummy with a white pillow as he dragged a gunny sack of ice along. Conversely, summer was personified by girls with flower leis, sunglasses, and surfboards.
But it was the singing and dancing that kept things alive in the Taproot’s production of Frozen, Jr. A karaoke soundtrack provided the background accompaniment throughout the show, and “Hygge” was a favorite, as an accordionist came on stage. But “Let it Go!” was definitely the high point, as long twirling blue ribbons conveyed the movement of the snow flurries.
The kids knew the music well, in fact, from the outset probably better than the producers and instructors who put the workshop together—after all, Frozen is to their generation what Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music was to my own. They were able to sing out confidently and strongly.
But as I learned from the show’s director, Jenny Cross, there was much more work that went into making the production successful beyond memorizing the songs. Working five full days a week for two weeks, the kids had to learn the script, singing, dancing, and all aspects of a putting on a professional production, including theater protocol and terminology. “Adults would never do it,” Cross added, “but the kids are sponges and just dive into it.”
Cross explained that all of the kids, ages 11-16, had theater backgrounds. “They all love theater and want to stick with it,” she added. The kids were screened through a formal application process and auditioned for the parts by reading scenes with each other and performing a dance sequence. It was also a requirement that all applicants be able to read a musical score.
It is not unusual that there are more girls than boys interested in drama programs in this particular age group, but no one seemed to mind that the roles were cast across gender. Likewise, racial background played no role in the casting, breaking the stereotypes of the Disney characters we know from the screen. It was refreshing.
The Frozen, Jr. summer acting studio was paid for by the parents with no other funding. The musical director, director, and choreographer were the only paid professionals, supported by summer internships for advanced college students or recent graduates from drama programs. They specialize in costume design, lighting, props, sound engineering, and stage management. The summer acting studio programs at the Taproot Theatre become an intensive learning experience for them as well.
After thunderous applause and a standing ovation, I felt honored to attend the Taproot’s student production of Frozen, Jr. together with the parents, grandparents, and friends of the young actors. One could see how invested the young performers had been in the production, sense their self-confidence, and feel the joy they felt as they shared Frozen’s spellbinding fairy-tale story of family, friendship, and love.
See also “Frozen will have Sámi version”: www.norwegianamerican.com/news/frozen-2-sami-version
Lori Ann Reinhall is a multilingual journalist and cultural ambassador based in Seattle. She is the president of the Seattle-Bergen Sister City Association and state representative for Sister Cities International, and she serves on the boards of several Nordic organizations.
This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.