Arts & Culture

The Big Chill: What It Took to Bring Disney's 'Frozen' to Broadway

It took plenty of innovation and renovation.
IMAGE COURTESY ANDREW ECCLES/DISNEY
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His show might not have fit. Walking to the St. James Theater from his nearby office, Frozen producer Thomas Schumacher admits he was initially worried that the 91-year-old house (which in 1943 was home to the debut of Oklahoma!) lacked the depth to accommodate the new musical, based on the blockbuster film.

Then he learned that the theater’s owner, Jordan Roth, president of Jujamcyn Theaters, was planning renovations (which have since been well documented on Roth’s Insta­gram account), and that they included knocking out the St. James’s back wall.

Inside the theater, Schu­macher points to such updates as the large wooden ­proscenium that frames the stage, which can be transformed at a character’s touch. Meanwhile, under the stage a dry ice tank has been installed to produce fog, and there’s an entire room for wigs.

In his 30 years with the Walt Disney Company, Schu­macher has defied the divide between mass appeal and creative ingenuity. It was he who, in 1995, recruited the then-unknown Julie Taymor to direct the Broadway adaptation of The Lion King(which has since earned $8.1 billion worldwide), one of several films he shepherded when he led Disney’s animated features department. For his next act, Schumacher—today president of Disney Theatrical Productions—is overseeing the ­transition from screen to stage of Frozen, which opens March 22.

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The Lion King and Frozen share certain things,” says Schumacher, who at 60 exudes the youthful zeal of Peter Pan. “Although they’re both delightful entertainments, they each have a serious catalytic event. In Frozen you have two young women. One has seriously injured her sister because of a superpower that was uncontrollable at the time. Then they lose their parents tragically and are torn apart.”


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After an overhaul, Broadway Street's St. James theater will be home to Frozen.

Those heroines would be Elsa and Anna, the cursed young queen and her plucky sister, played onstage by Caissie Levy and Patti Murin. Guiding the actresses on their characters’ journey toward reconciliation are British director Michael Grandage (he helmed Broadway’s Frost/Nixon) and a crew including librettist Jennifer Lee, who adapted her own screenplay, and the film’s co-lyricist and co-composer Kristen ­Anderson-Lopez, who wrote new songs with husband Bobby Lopez. (The duo just won an Oscar for their song "Remember Me" from the animated film Coco.)

For Lee, Schumacher’s background in theater was vital to adapting the film. During a pre-Broadway run in Denver last year, “Tom would never panic,” she recalls. “Every night he kept reassuring us that we were there to learn. For all his sparkling energy, he also brought stability.”

No wonder Schumacher, who early in his career was both an actor and a director, ended up a top-tier producer—a success he credits to his many mentors, among them a professor at UCLA. “He said to me, ‘Get the best people you can possibly work with, and enable them to do their best,’” Schu­macher recalls. “I’ve just been lucky to work with so many extraordinary people.”

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This story appears in the April 2018 issue of Town & Country.

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Elysa Gardner
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