Wicked Frozen

Wicked feature photo.jpg

Stephen Schwartz’s Wicked has played somewhere around 6,020 performances and counting, and last week the show cleared $2.7 million. The newly opened Frozen, despite some dreadful reviews, was at 99.9% capacity. And both musicals—Wicked since its 2003 opening, Frozen via the 2013 Disney animated smash that inspired it—are cultural phenomena, especially among musical-loving teenage girls who respond to the heroines’ frustrations, bonding with other young women (a sister, in Frozen’s case), and their eventual triumph over adversity. Both shows have earworm empowerment anthems that have saturated social media since their premieres, Wicked’s “Defying Gravity” and Frozen’s “Let It Go.” And both would seem ripe for spoofing, of the Forbidden Broadway sort. Who, except possibly their most die-hard fans, wouldn’t want to have a little fun at these monoliths’ expense?

 From left: Kathleen Armenti, Jake McKenna, and Natalie Sullivan in  Wicked Frozen . Top: Armenti and cast.

From left: Kathleen Armenti, Jake McKenna, and Natalie Sullivan in Wicked Frozen. Top: Armenti and cast.

That’s probably what audiences expect as they file into Wicked Frozen, which has been around for a couple of years but is making its Off-Broadway debut; it’s subtitled “the untold parody musical of some magic ice witch princesses and other stuff like that.” The work of Zoe Farmingdale (book and lyrics) and Toby Singer (music and lyrics), it’s a mashup of both blockbusters, then again it isn’t—it’s a book musical about adolescent loneliness. Its heroine, Adele Dazeem (Kathleen Armenti), is a miserable third grader, parentally neglected and chided by her peers for not conforming. (That name’s a lovely joke in itself—“Adele Dazeem” is how Idina Menzel was introduced by a teleprompter-challenged John Travolta when she sang “Let It Go” at the Oscars.) Wicked Frozen is really Adele’s story, and for all the characters and plot points it borrows from its two forbears, it entreats us to care about her.

And that puts the show at cross purposes with itself—surfacey mockery on the one hand and we-want-to-wring-your-hearts earnestness on the other. Adele is trapped in a classroom with a teacher at Stephen Schwartz Elementary School, Kristin Chenobell (Meagan Wells), during a Boston snowstorm. Chenobell is eager to make a difference through her drama class—cue her “I want” song. In amusingly broad Boston accents, which shows sportsmanship among the creators since that’s where Wicked Frozen originated, Adele unfurls to Kristin the not-so-original musical she has written.

Both shows have earworm empowerment anthems.

That’s where the mockery comes in—or should. It’s mostly punning variations on Wicked and Frozen artifacts, from the name of Wicked’s university, a rude variation on Shiz, to those of the dueling princesses—Elsaba, whose role Adele inhabits, and Glindanna (Lily Davis), the perfect blonde Adele/Elsaba aspires to be. One villainess is Mistress Horrible (Bethany Nicole Taylor), and another is billed as “Cli-MAH-te Chan-JE” (Allison Frasca), which, if you sound it out, amounts to a French pronunciation of a global weather crisis. The desirable blond prince craved by both princesses is not Fiyero or Hans, but Prince Ikea (Will Jacobs), allowing a funny if sloppy double-entendre choral number saluting both him and the furniture chain. There are others: a nameless Funny Snowman wandering around (Jake McKenna), who longs to melt to death, and whose featured number about that is unfortunately unfunny, though McKenna sells the hell out of it. And Nessawheels (Vanessa Magula), the wheelchaired noble who taunts Adele. And additional Wicked and Frozen types.

It's a large ensemble for such a small musical, and there’s a lot of talent on the little stage at St. Luke’s. Armenti, while well past the third grade, sings with great feeling and impressive top notes, and doesn’t overmilk Adele’s winsomeness and longing. Jacobs, whose Prince Ikea is a vain, smiling Nordic idiot, is quite the riot, given his underwritten material. Wells plays Miss Chenobell relatively straight, leaving the real Chenoweth-bashing to Davis, whose sendup of “Popular” is more sincere and less sassy than it ought to be.

 Armenti as Adele Dazeem plays Elsaba. Photographs by Adam Smith Jr.

Armenti as Adele Dazeem plays Elsaba. Photographs by Adam Smith Jr.

The whole score, in fact, is a curiosity, avoiding some obvious satirical targets and embracing others, weakly. “Let It Go” is parodied, but “Defying Gravity” isn’t. Singer’s music is pleasant and sometimes more than that, but his and Farmingdale’s lyrics repeat a lot and rhyme halfheartedly. The initial lyric: “Wicked Frozen ah ah ah,” four times. Even when the lines are neat, they’re basic: “I know I might be strange / But I don’t know how to change.” 

Farmingdale also directs and choreographs, busily, with chorus people and minor characters crossing pointlessly upstage, and big emotions thrown out to the house, with minimal return. There’s also some imaginative costume design (Jennifer Anderson), effective sound (Singer again), and efficient lighting (Maarten Cornelis).

Let’s not be too hard on this one, as it abounds in gifted young performers who deserve to be seen again, and it attempts to fill a void that needs filling. With Forbidden Broadway gone, Off-Broadway could use another outlet for hurling good-natured abuse at deserving pop-culture musical institutions. Wicked Frozen, alas, isn’t quite it.

The Write Act Repertory production of Wicked Frozen runs through July 22 at St. Luke’s Theatre (308 W. 46th St., between Eighth and Ninth). Performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Sundays. Tickets are $20–$99 and may be purchased through Telecharge.com or by calling (212) 239-6200.

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