When the live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast” was announced, I, and almost every other woman in her early 30s, rejoiced and shared the news on Facebook. One of a handful of pivotal movies from our collective youth, “Beauty and the Beast” set my generation’s expectations for a powerful woman and the man who should love her. Seeing the movie that we loved as little girls turn into another cinematic experience to relive as adult women was a way to connect to childhood and introduce our beloved characters to our own children. Similarly, the Disney princess magic worked on a new generation with “Frozen Jr.” While it might seem that “Frozen Jr.” is reserved for the little ones, the crowd at the Noel S. Ruiz Theatre in Oakdale on the evening of Dec. 7 was teeming with pre-teens. Since the “Frozen” movie had debuted over six years ago, many had fallen in love with the Ice Queen as grade-schoolers and were now on the cusp of high school for the “Frozen Jr.” production, but with even more appreciation.
The challenge of keeping a beloved, often memorized childhood classic engaging and true to story while still being artistically inventive is one that director Patrick Grossman rose to, bringing a nearly full house to unbound glee and sporadic bursts of song. In their respective roles of Anna and Elsa, actresses Brooke Miranda and Lizzy Hargraves were costumed perfectly by Ronald Green III and Trisha Pearson, and brought the sisterly duality of energy and restraint to their characters. Miranda’s crestfallen pleas in “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” were felt by the audience as she attempted to coax her sister to be friends once again. In her whimsical, and near sultry, duet with Luke Ferrari (playing nice-guy and eventual villain, Hans), Miranda’s expressions were bright and over-the-top, and their coordinated dance moves were a treat for old and young in the audience, as they paid homage to dance trends going back to the ‘90s (i.e. the jerking, awkward but apt “Cotton-Eyed Joe”).
Hargraves, in her regal, stoic but delicate role of Queen Elsa, played the tenderness fraught with being duty-bound character arc with precision and passion. When her coronation clothes pulled away from her to reveal her decadent, bedazzled “ice queen” dress, there was an audible gasp as she held her right hand in a perfect staccato point for maximum dramatic effect. As she belted out the anthem of the movie, “Let It Go,” scores of Elsas stood and sang their hearts out with Hargraves, leading the audience to the spectacular high notes of the song.
Not to be outdone, Logan O’Leary and Jake Siffert played perfect comic relief to the dizzying sisters as the sarcastic, oft-insulted Kristoff (O’Leary) and roaringly naïve Olaf (Siffert). While both personalities belied tender hearts for Anna and Elsa, O’Leary and Siffert were true to their roles of judgmental observers to the sisters’ antics and power trips. The puppetry of Siffert with his Olaf stand-in was both subtle and immaculate, as he captured the cinematic snowman’s every confused, nuanced reaction to the world of crisis-mode Arrendale.
Lighting played a critical role in the movement of the characters and the plotline, with punctuated streaks of ice flashing across the stage and dramatic backgrounds. Set design transitioned seamlessly, albeit grounding each scene with strategic indicators. The number with Oaken (played hilariously by Austin Sidito) and his never-ending brood was set off particularly well, with props and costume design for a Nordic Brady Bunch of characters.
The evening ended with a standing ovation and cheers, with most of the audience staying afterwards for pictures with the cast. n