“Frozen” heat­ing up Den­ver

In­side Dis­ney’s mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar quest to con­quer Broad­way

The Denver Post - - FEATURES - By John Wen­zel

Broad­way singer and ac­tress Patti Murin shares nearly ev­ery­thing about her work with her ac­tor hus­band, Colin Don­nell.

But not her lat­est project.

“I’ve been in­volved in this for a year and my hus­band doesn’t know a sin­gle thing about it,” Murin, 36, said of “Frozen: The Mu­si­cal,” the stage adap­ta­tion of Dis­ney’s 2013 hit an­i­mated movie in which she plays the char­ac­ter of Anna. “It’s been such a closed process. And I mean closed. No­body we love has been able to see it.”

Dozens of peo­ple work­ing on the topse­cret pro­duc­tion have been camped in­side the Buell Theatre in the Den­ver Per­form­ing Arts Com­plex since May. Even be­fore that, Dis­ney ex­ec­u­tives had been con­sid­er­ing “Frozen” for a stage mu­si­cal, given the es­tab­lished pipe­line for an­i­mated fea­tures such as “The Lion King” and “Aladdin” to be­come Broad­way (and later, na­tion­ally tour­ing) shows.

When “Frozen: The Mu­si­cal” de­buts for the pub­lic at the Buell on Aug. 17, it could mark the launch of an­other the­atri­cal pro­duc­tion worth mil­lions, or per­haps a bil­lion, dol­lars for Dis­ney, which plans to move the show to Broad­way’s St. James Theatre in Fe­bru­ary.

But first, the “Frozen” team must work out count­less kinks dur­ing the seven-

week “pre-broad­way en­gage­ment” in Den­ver, a city in which Dis­ney has come to rely on the quan­tity and qual­ity of the­ater­go­ing au­di­ences, plus skilled crews and fa­cil­i­ties that mir­ror the pro­duc­tion’s even­tual home in New York City.

“We have about 150 peo­ple in Den­ver work­ing on the show,” said Jack El­don, vice pres­i­dent of do­mes­tic tour­ing for Dis­ney The­atri­cal Group. “That in­cludes per­form­ers, tech­ni­cal crew, the cre­ative team and all our de­sign­ers. We have our choice of do­ing many mar­kets and I think it speaks vol­umes that we keep com­ing back to Den­ver.”

Land­ing “Frozen: The Mu­si­cal” is a coup for the Den­ver Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts (DCPA), which al­ready hosts the re­gion’s big­gest tour­ing theater pro­duc­tions. But it’s not un­prece­dented. In 2007, DCPA hosted the six-week, pre-broad­way run of the stage adap­ta­tion of “The Lit­tle Mer­maid” at the El­lie Caulkins Opera House, selling a record 95,000 tick­ets.

DCPA also served as the launch­pad for the na­tional-tour­ing pro­duc­tion of “The Lion King,” which has been seen by tens of mil­lions since it opened in Den­ver 15 years ago. (The Broad­way ver­sion alone has grossed $1.35 bil­lion over the last two decades, ac­cord­ing to The Hol­ly­wood Re­porter).

“Frozen: The Mu­si­cal” is just the lat­est ex­am­ple of DCPA’S na­tional in­flu­ence and evo­lu­tion into a pow­er­ful tour­ing-show mag­net, said pres­i­dent and CEO Jan­ice Si­den.

“Ev­ery­where I go, our Broad­way group is the envy of theater groups around the coun­try,” added Mar­tin Sem­ple, DCPA chair­man, who cred­ited his com­pany’s Broad­way ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor John Eke­berg with keep­ing the Dis­ney re­la­tion­ship strong. “Go­ing to the Tonys with John and meet­ing all these peo­ple just con­firmed the re­spect peo­ple have for us.”

DCPA has driven ticket sales for its 2017-18 sea­son by dan­gling “Frozen” in front of its more than 28,000 sub­scribers. It has ev­ery rea­son to ex­pect that the broad, cross­over ap­peal of “Frozen” will help this sea­son sur­pass last year’s num­bers.

As the largest non­profit theater com­pany in the coun­try, DCPA sold 685,375 tick­ets to its tour­ing, Broad­way and in-house theater com­pany shows in fis­cal 2016, gen­er­at­ing $150 mil­lion in eco­nomic im­pact and at­tract­ing roughly 1.2 mil­lion vis­i­tors to down­town Den­ver, ac­cord­ing to a DCPA re­port.

De­spite em­ploy­ing the orig­i­nal, Os­car-win­ning cre­ative team from the film ver­sion of “Frozen,” and Tony-win­ning Broad­way vet­er­ans — in­clud­ing di­rec­tor Michael Grandage (“Red”), chore­og­ra­pher Rob Ash­ford (“Thor­oughly Mod­ern Mil­lie”) and mu­sic su­per­vi­sor Stephen Ore­mus (“Wicked,” “The Book of Mor­mon”) — Dis­ney is leav­ing noth­ing to chance.

Past mu­si­cal adap­ta­tions of the an­i­mated Dis­ney films “The Lit­tle Mer­maid” and “Tarzan” were high-pro­file flops, and “Frozen: The Mu­si­cal” has al­ready seen turnover with a cou­ple of di­rec­tors, three chore­og­ra­phers, two set de­sign­ers and a pair of El­sas, ac­cord­ing to The New York Times.

But flesh-and-blood au­di­ences will have the last word on this re­port­edly $25 mil­lion-$30 mil­lion pro­duc­tion — not the first. If it’s like ev­ery other mu­si­cal ever writ­ten, a pub­li­cist for Dis­ney The­atri­cal told The Den­ver Post, then it will cer­tainly in­volve many changes along the way.

The pre-broad­way en­gage­ment of “Aladdin: The Mu­si­cal,” for ex­am­ple, in­volved ma­jor re­tool­ing in the show’s first 40 min­utes af­ter the­ater­go­ers in Toronto failed to re­spond to voice-over nar­ra­tion, which di­verged sig­nif­i­cantly from the film.

Dis­ney The­atri­cal has built in at least three months of down­time be­tween the end of the 46show “Frozen” run in Den­ver on Oct. 1 and its New York roll-out early next year, just in case it needs a new song, new sets or more. Al­ready, a cre­ative team that in­cludes the mar­ried song­writ­ers from the film, Kris­ten An­der­son-lopez and Robert Lopez, has ex­panded “Frozen” from a 102-minute movie to a roughly twohour mu­si­cal, with triple the num­ber of songs and a cast of more than 40.

Like most film shoot­ing sched­ules, the pre-broad­way pe­riod is a gru­el­ing sprint that squeezes the most out of ev­ery­one’s time and en­ergy — even if it started in earnest more than a year ago with the film’s orig­i­nal co-di­rec­tor, Jen­nifer Lee, writ­ing the script and re­hears­ing the show at Man­hat­tan’s New 42nd Street Stu­dios.

Tech­ni­cal re­hearsals with the cast started at the Buell on July 25 and the pace has been un­re­lent­ing, said Caissie Levy, a Broad­way vet­eran who plays Snow Queen Elsa in the “Frozen” mu­si­cal.

“We’re there for nine or 10 hours a day, pop­ping in for wig fit­tings and slot­ting things in like that,” she said.

There’s plenty of pres­sure on Levy in her role as Elsa, which in­cludes belt­ing out the in­stantly fa­mil­iar and Os­car-win­ning song “Let It Go.” But there is also op­por­tu­nity in evolv­ing an an­i­mated icon into a three-di­men­sional char­ac­ter.

It’s a tricky bal­ance: the “Frozen” stage show must mir­ror ma­jor as­pects of the movie, be­cause that’s what is selling tick­ets for DCPA right now. Loosely based on the Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen fairy­tale “The Snow Queen,” “Frozen” has res­onated with global au­di­ences thanks to its em­pow­er­ing fe­male char­ac­ters, ca­sual wit and melody-drenched songs.

But the mu­si­cal must also find its own voice and re­spectabil­ity. Merely mim­ick­ing the film risks alien­at­ing fans with a hokey copy of the orig­i­nal — no mat­ter how eye-pop­ping the sets, cos­tumes and spe­cial ef­fects.

And the po­ten­tial au­di­ence is huge. “Frozen” is the high­est-gross­ing an­i­mated film in his­tory, with more than $1 bil­lion in world­wide rev­enue. Eight per­cent of DCPA pa­trons came from out­side Colorado last year — ver­sus about 4 per­cent 20 years ago. But that per­cent­age jumps into the dou­ble dig­its for tour­ing Broad­way shows like “Wicked” and “The Lion King,” DCPA said, which gives of­fi­cials a good idea of “Frozen’s” po­ten­tial draw.

“There’s tremen­dous pres­sure that ev­ery­body’s feel­ing to de­liver for our share­hold­ers,” said Dis­ney The­atri­cal’s El­don. “But that’s our day-to-day job. It’s dif­fer­ent than other the­atri­cal pro­duc­ers, be­cause our in­vestors are the pub­lic. It’s both daunt­ing and won­der­ful.”

The stakes and ten­sion are high even with­out con­sid­er­ing that knee-jerk re­ac­tions will be posted to so­cial me­dia for all — in­clud­ing cu­ri­ous New York au­di­ences and crit­ics — to see. For that and other rea­sons, the show will run for about a month in Den­ver be­fore crit­ics are al­lowed to of­fi­cially re­view it on Sept. 14.

“We must be adren­a­line junkies and masochists and over­all crazy peo­ple to do this, be­cause it’s so thrilling and so ter­ri­fy­ing at the same time,” said Levy, 36, who has ap­peared in “Rent,” “Hair­spray,” “Wicked,” “Hair” and other top Broad­way shows.

“But we need to make sure ev­ery­one who’s see­ing the show for the first and only time, who bought tick­ets when they went on sale months ago and are bring­ing all their kids in their ‘Frozen’ gear, or who got a babysit­ter and went out to din­ner, are get­ting the show that they’re meant to get,” added Levy, whose 18-month-old son and hus­band are join­ing her in Den­ver from New York.

The Den­ver Post got the first peek at the pro­duc­tion, but swore this re­porter to se­crecy about any sets, spe­cial ef­fects or de­tails that he wit­nessed.

The in­side of the Buell Theatre looked like more of a buzzing hive than an empty shell, with dozens of de­sign­ers and tech­ni­cal staff camped out among the seats at ta­bles crowded with lamps, com­puter work­sta­tions, hard­wired phones and rivers of over­lap­ping wires — more like NASA’S Mis­sion Con­trol than a stereo­typ­i­cal gag­gle of pro­duc­ers cri­tiquing from the sound­board.

Many of them were de­sign­ers and their as­so­ciates, in­clud­ing Tony win­ners Christo­pher Oram (sets and cos­tumes), Natasha Katz (light­ing) and Finn Ross (pro­jec­tions).

But the fi­nal col­lab­o­ra­tor on the mu­si­cal, as the cast and crew is fond of say­ing, will be Den­ver au­di­ences. The cre­ative team is hop­ing to craft some­thing that will run for years to come, if not decades. Less a time cap­sule of ideas, more a ve­hi­cle for their per­pet­ual de­liv­ery.

Still, no amount of plan­ning can pre­dict what hap­pens on open­ing night.

“You’re al­ways ter­ri­fied,” Murin said. “You could be as ready as you could pos­si­bly be and still be like, ‘Why did I choose this ca­reer?!’ “

Levy, who al­ready feels a sis­terly bond with both Murin’s “hot-mess” Princess Anna char­ac­ter and the ac­tress as a per­son, said Den­ver is an ideal place to get ac­cli­mated to the show and its au­di­ence. But she won’t refuse off-stage help when she needs it.

“I’m sure we’re go­ing to get very chummy with that oxy­gen tank in the wings,” she said.

Pro­vided by Dis­ney

Be­fore it opens on Broad­way in spring 2018, the stage adap­ta­tion of Dis­ney’s “Frozen” will come to the Buell Theatre start­ing Aug. 17.

Joe Amon, The Den­ver Post

“Frozen: The Mu­si­cal” stars Caissie Levy, left, and Patti Murin as Snow Queen Elsa and her younger sis­ter, Anna.

Jenny An­der­son, Pro­vided by DCPA

From left: Di­rec­tor Michael Grandage, pro­ducer Thomas Schu­macher and set/cos­tumer de­signer Christo­pher Oram.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.