“Frozen — Live at the Hyperion” at Disney California Adventure Park will be held in Hyperion Theater. // © 2016 Samantha Davis-Friedman
Feature image (above): The finale of “Frozen — Live at the Hyperion” // © 2016 Scott Brinegar/ Disneyland Resort
The “Frozen” phenomenon is nothing new. Little girls and boys have been singing the songs inspired by the story of Anna and Elsa since the Disney film debuted in 2013, but turning a blockbuster animated hit into a full-fledged live stage musical at Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim, Calif., was no easy task.
“I knew that we needed to stay true to the movie but also create an adaptation that would be timeless,” said Dana Harrel, executive creative director of “Frozen — Live at the Hyperion.”
The production team, led by Tony Award-nominated director Liesl Tommy, set out to create a Broadway-level show infused with the Disney magic of storytelling. The result, according to Harrel, is “one of the most technologically advanced stage shows that Disney has ever done in any of its global parks.”
The production’s cutting-edge technology features large-format projections that cover nearly 8,000 square feet of scenic surfaces in Hyperion Theater, located in the park’s Hollywood Land area, including a spectacular custom-made 2,200-square-foot, high-resolution video wall. In addition, the show’s special effects allow audiences to experience falling snow, a high-speed sleigh chase and, in one of the most dramatic moments in the show, Elsa rising on a staircase of ice high above their heads.
However, even with the amazing technological aspects of the show, what audiences will fall in love with most are the characters. The exuberant Anna is funny and charming, her sister Elsa is regal and tortured, and the puppetry created by Michael Curry — the co-designer of the animals in “The Lion King” on Broadway — brings Sven the reindeer and Olaf the snowman to life. And it’s no surprise that Olaf’s daydream about what it must be like to experience summer is one of the highlights of the show.
When designing the sets for “Frozen — Live at the Hyperion,” Tommy worked with two-time Tony Award-nominated set designer Robert Brill. Tommy explains that she and Brill were drawn to the idea that opening and closing doors was a metaphor for opening and closing one’s mind and heart.
“The thing that people love is the relationship between the sisters and the search for connection,” Tommy says. “So the center of the show needed to be that heart and that yearning to connect.”
To illustrate that essential theme, Brill’s set design incorporates seven massive pairs of doors, all faithfully re-created from the animated feature.
“At the center of bringing the show to life was finding what may have been implied in the film and fleshing it out even further,” said Jason Michael Webb, music supervisor, arranger and adaptor of “Frozen — Live at the Hyperion.”
According to Webb, one way of accomplishing that was adapting songs in the film that are solos or duets into ensemble pieces with dance arrangements, allowing the actors to express physically what is going on in the story emotionally.
Christopher Windom, choreographer of “Frozen — Live at the Hyperion,” adds that there was no precedent for movement or choreography from the movie, giving him the freedom to invent whatever he thought the story needed and deserved.
One of the most significant adaptations “Frozen” fans will notice comes at the very end of the show.
“The movie ends beautifully, but it doesn’t end on a rousing song,” Harrel said.
Initially, Tommy and Webb used a reprise of “Love is an Open Door” as a finale placeholder until another song could be found, but they soon discovered that the interpretation of the lyrics could be expanded to opening all the closed doors in one’s life, and repurposing that song as the finale created a significant moment of redemption for Anna and Elsa that does not exist in the film.
Throughout the creative process, Tommy says, the production team continually referred to the film and then found ways to make the live experience new while still being faithful to the original story. The result, she explains, is that the designers have been able to fill the theater with “poetry and romance and humor and irony” — the components that she believes make the experience emotionally fulfilling for the audience.
“We have ... let some true heart and emotion land on this stage in a way that we have never done [at one of our theme parks] before,” said David Duffy, director of creative entertainment for Disneyland Resort and executive producer of “Frozen — Live at the Hyperion,” summarizing that emotional impact of the production.