It’s snowing. Although it’s a pleasant night at the Disney California Adventure Park, white flakes are drifting down over the crowd of invited guests to see the premiere of a new theatrical interpretation for the stage, “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion.”
The stage production from Tony nominee Liesl Tommy (“Eclipsed”) brings all of the elements from Disney’s highest grossing animated film “Frozen” to life, including a sister with a freezing touch and a talking snowman. The show replaces the “Aladdin” production that had played in the theater at Disneyland’s sister park for 13 years.
Tommy originally turned down the offer to create a stage production of the popular film.
“It’s one of the most special stories of the 21st Century,” Tommy says after the debut performance at California Adventure. “As I talked to guests at the park, I knew that a Broadway level show was not good enough. The show had to be a child of this park.”
There was good reason to be nervous. The 2013 movie took in more than $1.27 billion at the box office. It won two Oscars, the soundtrack went quadruple platinum and its toys topped the National Retail Federation’s 2014 Hot Holiday Toys survey. If that wasn’t enough pressure, more than 3 million role-play dresses also have been sold in North America alone.
Dana Harrel, creative portfolio executive for Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment, understood why Tommy hesitated. Even he had to pause before tackling the project.
“When they approached me about putting together a team for a ‘Frozen’ stage adaptation, I thought, ‘How am I going to do justice to that movie.’ I have two daughters, which means I have seen the movie 500 times,” Harrel says. ‘So, I knew we had to stay true to the movie and also be able create an adaptation that would be timeless.”
Harrel was certain Tommy could take the movie’s central story of the love between sisters to focus the stage production.
The sister connection was apparent to Tommy from the start. She also realized Disney animated films have always done a good job of examining the sadness of childhood.
“Once I understood that was the essence of the story, I never lost that emotional intensity,” Tommy says. “Even when we are in the middle of comedy or grand romantic gestures, at the center will always be that yearning to connect.”
The director had found the core, but she had to go down what she calls a “long, long, long, long road” to get the show to the stage. That meant coming up with ways to make moments from the film come to life – like a talking snowman – and the logistics of producing a stage production at a theme park.
There are more performances of “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion” in a day than any Broadway production. That meant casting 107 performers, instead of the 24 regular actors, for all of the performances.
Tommy describes the process as having to cast a Broadway production and all the touring companies at the same time. And, it wasn’t just finding actors – many performers need to sing, dance and handle puppetry.
Just as well known is the musical score of “Frozen,” which includes the show-stopping “Let It Go.”
It fell to Musical Director Jason Michael Webb to adapt the music of the film for the stage.
The task was easier because of how familiar the music has become. It only takes one note of “Let It Go” for the audience to erupt.
But there was a big challenge: Most of the music in the film is written for solo performances. Webb had to arrange the music to bring in the ensemble.
And, they needed a major number to end the show. The film didn’t need a big performance piece. But a finale is necessary with musical theater.
A finale tune was being written when Tommy suggested using “Love Is an Open Door.” Harrel discounted the idea since that song is performed by Hans, who ends up being the villain of the tale.
“Liesl said if you listen to the lyrics, they fit beautifully. Then we will twist it to the idea of opening up the doors of your life for your sister. It becomes a metaphor for the whole show,” Harrel says. “As soon as I heard the cast singing it, I just started crying. The song became very redemptive.”
Webb worked with choreographer Christopher Windom to make sure the music would work for large dance numbers.
For Windom, adapting the film to fit the musical theater format was liberating because there was no precedence. He got to invent whatever was needed from a dance point of view.
The opening of “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion” is just one of the big changes at the Disneyland Resort this summer.
Soarin’ Over California, an original attraction at California Adventure since it opened 15 years ago, has been revamped.
The updated attraction, “Soarin’ Around the World,” opens June 17. Instead of footage shot in California, the new ride will feature scenes from the Matterhorn, Great Wall of China, Monument Valley, the Great Pyramids and Sydney Harbour.
Both exhibits are in California Adventure and are included as part of the ticket price.
Knott’s Berry Farm
The 75th anniversary celebration of Knott’s Berry Farm’s Ghost Town will run through Sept. 5.
To mark the anniversary, GhostRider – the longest, tallest, and fastest wooden roller coaster on the West Coast – has been re-opened. The ride, which opened in 1998, features more than 4,500 feet of wooden track The coaster’s trains have been replaced with mining cars.
“GhostRider was the last attraction commissioned by the Knott family, and this restoration project ensures that the family’s final gift to the park will continue to thrill generations of thrill seekers to come,” saus Raffi Kaprelyan, Knott’s Berry Farm’s vice president and general manager in a news release.
There also will be a new interactive entertainment experience called Ghost Town Alive!, where guests get to play an active role in shaping what happens throughout the town. It runs until Sept. 5.
Interactive spots for Ghost Town Alive! will include the Barber Shop, where the local barber will share gossip. There will be a chance to play a game of cards in the Sheriff’s office and the Barn has become a working horse stable.
“The Hunger Games: The Exhibition”
“The Hunger Games: The Exhibition” that made its West Coast debut Feb. 13 at the Palace of Fine Arts’ Innovation Hangar in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge at 3601 Lyon St. in San Francisco, will remain open until Labor Day weekend. It originally was to run through July.
The exhibit has 46 costumes, more than 1,000 props, 16 scenic vignettes and seven galleries devoted to the four movies. Visitors start in District 12 and wind their way through displays that cover Katniss Everdeen’s story.
The films and books have created a huge number of fans. “The Hunger Games” has been translated into 51 languages, and the four movies have generated almost $3 billion in ticket sales around the world.
Frozen - Live at the Hyperion facts
- More than 2,500 actors/vocalists and 1,000 dancers from across the country were auditioned; 107 were selected for the opening cast.
- All vocals are performed live.
- More than 1,000 costumes have been created, along with 772 pairs of shoes
- It took more than 1,500 hours to design, engineer and fabricate the 7 pairs of doors onstage.
- Many scenic elements are battery powered and wirelessly controlled, two of which (snow mounds) move about the stage autonomously, using laser scanners and reflectors as their guide
- Elsa’s magic is created through the use of dynamic effects, including 20 plumes of CO2, along with liquid nitrogen and evaporating snow throughout the stage and auditorium – in addition to scenic, lighting, video and audio effects.
- Elsa’s staircase of ice is an automated set piece designed to swing the performer over the first several rows of the audience.
- The chandelier has more than 500 points of light.
- It took nearly 45,000 sq. ft. of custom-dyed fabric to create the “Aurora” curtain that encompasses the interior of the theater.
- 211 new lighting fixtures were installed for the show.
- There are 117 moving lights.
- 12 custom patterns were created for the moving lights, many of those designs based on original artwork from the film.
- The theater seats nearly 2,000 guests per show.
- The stage is 120 feet wide and 52 feet deep, with a proscenium stretching 30 feet high
- The fly space above the stage reaches approximately 76 feet, with multiple automated lines for fly rigs, scenic drops or other special equipment or set pieces.