Replicate or Reinvent? Disney’s ‘Frozen’ Moves to the Stage

“People know this material profoundly, and have seen lots of different interpretations,” he added. “That can be a very positive thing, or maybe not a positive. I don’t know.”

Just Enough Surprises

For Disney there is great potential. “Frozen” is expected to cost between $25 million and $30 million to develop, on the high side for Broadway but a small sum for a company that grossed about $56 billion in its last fiscal year.

But when “Frozen” was set in motion, Disney could not have known it would arrive on Broadway during an especially competitive time — directly opposite the new and acclaimed “Harry Potter” play. Another complication: “Frozen” fever is pervasive — the show has been adapted on ice, at Disney California Adventure Park and on a Disney cruise ship, and its characters and costumes are highly merchandised.

Because the “Frozen” material is so familiar, and the fans so intense, finding the right balance between replica and reinvention is complicated.

“You want to do everything they know the piece to be, and go much deeper,” said Mr. Grandage, the show’s director. “It is incumbent upon us to come up with surprises.”

That means new elements starting right at the beginning: Whereas the movie opens on a frozen lake, with a group of singing ice harvesters, the musical will start in a verdant landscape, with a group of scruffy (covered in greenery), sexy (greenery only goes so far), tailed creatures, called hidden folk, drawn from Scandinavian folklore and chanting in Norwegian.

But there will also be lots that is familiar in the show, including the basic narrative, the major characters and even some of the jokes.

“Frozen,” as die-hard fans know, is loosely (very loosely) based on “The Snow Queen,” the great 19th century Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale about the formidable power of love — more specifically, in the Andersen tale, about a young girl’s drive (abetted by a reindeer) to rescue her best friend, a boy whose heart and mind have been frozen by ice shards, from the snow-walled palace of a wintry monarch.

In the musical, as in the film, the snow queen figure Elsa is not evil but tormented — her power, which is the magical ability to create snow and ice, is also a problem, because she is unable to control it. Elsa’s struggle strains her relationship with her younger sister, Anna; that relationship between the sisters, now princesses (this is,…

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