by Cynthia Wands
Last week, my twin sister took me and our ten year old twin nieces to see FROZEN on Broadway. We could have seen some other shows: WICKED, THE LION KING, the Harry Potter play. (I have yet to see HAMILTON. I’m saving up my big bucks for that).
But when our nieces were three years old, I gave them the unfortunate Christmas gift of FROZEN dresses that would light up and sing “LET IT GO”. I kid you not.
Yes, I bought into the commercialization of our American Theater. Worse, I seared the memory of that damn song into our entire family’s collective memory, as we had to listen to that melody over and over again during that Christmas.
So here we are, some seven years later, and this is the first time that our nieces have been in New York City. We were destined to see FROZEN, the musical that they had memorized the songs and dialogue since they were three.
The evening that we went to the show, a new cast of leading characters were put into the show – the previous contract had ended for the year, and this was the opening night for this new group. The house was sold out, and filled to capacity with a kind of hysteria that was a little unnerving.
We were sitting way, way up in the last balcony, and the stage seemed very far away and below us. The announcements were made, the house lights dimmed, and the music started. And I have to tell you: it was incredible. The music especially, for actors who were going on for the first time in these roles on Broadway – their confident and beautiful voices filled the house. (We couldn’t see any of the details of the microphones or sound system – but it was beautifully balanced between the orchestra and the performers.). The special effects were outrageous, and the characters were easy to follow in the fairy tale genre.
I wondered if our nieces were a bit too old, at ten years old, to be watching this, but every time I glanced over at them, they were in the grip of a fierce and rapt attention mesmerized by the performers. They had that kind of laser beam focus on what they were watching that had them completely in the moment. (Albeit with a singing snowman puppet, and a reindeer named Sven.) I saw them completely in love with the spectacle. The crisis for a musical character that is saved by a sister’s love. Feisty young girls that have secret powers. All that.
A friend of my sister’s was in the show, and afterwards, he graciously gave us a tour backstage, and he chatted with our nieces about the mechanics of the costumes changes and the evolving casts. He treated them as though they were part of theatre community, and they were in turn, were shy and fiercely inquisitive about how things worked onstage. (“What is the snow made of?” “How did she change her dress so quickly?” “How does the snowman walk around?”) At the very end of his tour, he discovered that they spoke French, (he does too) and they had a brief, charming conversation in French. He gave them autographed photographs from the show, and they floated out of the theatre like helium balloons.
I had a couple of thoughts about the evening, the production, the connection with the people onstage. As a ridiculously over produced, absolutely expensive, wildly imaginative production – the audience loved it. They were charged as if they were at a football game. The cheers at the end of Act One were cathartic. There was a reminder at the beginning of the show that the audience was prohibited from singing or talking during the show. Even with that admonishment, during the show I could see audience members mouthing the words to the songs. Small children were crying out for Anna during her dying by poison scene. There was yelling and crying at the curtain call.
The human contact backstage after the show was the real highlight of the evening. Watching our nieces as they were included in the conversation about the performances onstage, and to be able to pick up a prop and feel that it’s real: that was the real magic. It’s a reminder for me, that the human connection to our artwork, whether or not it includes singing reindeers, is a part of our place in this.