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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, after all, Disney) is at the heart of the story as Anna, driven by love (also aided by a reindeer), determines to save Elsa.

Still here: Olaf, the lovable snowman who naïvely fantasizes about sunbathing; Hans, a handsome prince; Kristoff, a rugged ice harvester; and Sven, the reindeer, played by the ballet-trained Andrew Pirozzi. Onstage, he wears a head-to-toe costume with prosthetic hooves attached to his hands and feet, and walks with his feet en pointe; offstage he spent days on the floor of his apartment, studying how his dog moves.


Patti Murin and Jelani Alladin in rehearsal.

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

A few minor characters have been dropped: Gone is Marshmallow, the giant snow monster, as well as the pack of menacing wolves — Mr. Grandage has opted for more psychological, and less physical, drama. The trolls have been replaced with the hidden folk, making that aspect of the show less cute and more mystical; the townspeople are dressed in costumes inspired by the bunad, a traditional Norwegian folk garment, giving them a touch of authenticity.

The show’s writer, Jennifer Lee, and the married composers, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez, have spent months crafting new material. The musical, about 20 minutes longer than the film, will have about a dozen new songs, in addition to seven from the film, aiming to deepen the characters’ back stories and relationships.

Among the highlights: a new first act song for Elsa, “Dangerous to Dream,” and a new, and vocally flashy, second act number in which she grapples with the implications of having a power that she cannot control.

Patti Murin, the actress playing Anna, is one of a handful of cast members who have been with the project since the beginning; Ms. Levy auditioned for an early developmental lab, but didn’t get cast, and then was brought in as Elsa last summer.

Both women are 36, each is a “Wicked” alumna (Ms. Levy as Elphaba and Ms. Murin as Glinda) and each has previously originated roles on Broadway. But “Frozen” is a major career break for both of them.

“We know that we’ve got a big project on our hands,” Ms. Murin said.

“I knew what a massive opportunity this was, and how special it would be to be creating this character for the stage,” Ms. Levy agreed. “I never thought I’d get to be a Disney princess, that’s for sure.”

The pair will lead a company with a large cast (40 performers) and a big orchestra (22 musicians). The doors to the palace are 20 feet high. And there are 64 wigs.

One unusual, although not unprecedented, element of the “Frozen” development is that the actors and stage managers involved will share in any profits the show makes.

Profit-sharing has become an increasingly hot topic in commercial theater, particularly because of the enormous success of “Hamilton.” That show’s cast hired a lawyer to successfully press for profit-sharing when it became clear it was going to be a long-running hit, and Disney has decided that 0.5 percent of any profits from “Frozen” will go to actors and stage members represented by Actors’ Equity and hired to work on the show between the fall of 2016 and the Broadway opening.

A Sense of Familiarity

Denver has brought good — and not-so-good — luck to Disney before.

This is where the first touring company for the blockbuster “Lion King” began. It’s also where “The Little Mermaid” had its start — a show that wobbled its way through a Broadway run memorable because actors used “wheelies” onstage to convey the sensation of gliding underwater.

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