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Craterian's 'Frozen Jr.' more satisfying than the animated film

TMTO’s production of “Frozen Jr.” opened last weekend at the Craterian Theatre complete with blizzards and epic battles between good and evil.

This Teen Musical Theater Production of Oregon show is a spectacular celebration of true love and is an exceptionally pleasing children’s theatrical dramatic work. Fifty-seven cast members cavort through 16 musical numbers and countless costume changes to deliver a truly professional performance.

Disney’s “Frozen” was released in 2013 as an animated fantasy film written by Jennifer Lee, and adapted for the stage as “Frozen Jr.” with music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez.

While Disney’s animated “Frozen” is wildly popular, TMTO’s production of “Disney’s Frozen Jr.” is ever so much more satisfying as a live theatrical production.

The TMTO performance at the Craterian is directed by Cailey McCandless, who ably demonstrates her big budget production experience in other venues — the show is bigger than two eyes can see!

Princesses Anna and Elsa are sisters who couldn’t be more different.

Anna is wild and exuberant, while Elsa is measured with a secret and barely controlled power to freeze the world and turn a heart to ice.

\The sisters inherit the throne to Arendelle, and in one blinding moment of anger, Elsa strikes her kingdom with a curse of cold and flees alone to the freezing North Mountain. Anna sets out to find her sister and restore summer, and in the journey finds great loyalty, odd characters and terrible trials that only true love can resolve.

Three sets of young women have Anna and Elsa’s roles. The first set, Naomi Thuren as Young Anna and Amelia Hall as Young Elsa, are carefree children. Brianna Stratton has the role of Middle Anna and Dakota Crumley is Middle Elsa, and portray the teenagers are they are filled with doubt and fears. Sarah Metwally and Kaiya Bagley are Anna and Elsa, fully grown into womanhood. The three sets of sisters consistently reflect a single person’s identity, older and somewhat changed, but still carrying the essential personalities and behaviors of their character. The continuity of their performances over the course of the narrative was outstanding. Bagley as Queen Elsa is wonderfully queenly, formal and noble with an incredible voice.

One of the oddest and most charming characters in “Frozen Jr.” is Olaf, a snowman come to life. Colton Nicol has this role and plays it entirely on his knees so Olaf is short and stumpy. Nicol moves so quickly across the stage that it almost is impossible for the cast to keep up with him, skinny stick arms pumping away and big orange carrot nose bobbing along in comical excitement

While most plays today have an ensemble to back up, illustrate and extend the impact of the narrative, “Frozen Jr.” has five, count ’em, five ensembles. Actors are often in more than one ensemble in this talent-rich, extravagant production. The Coronation Ball Guests are in royal attire, formidably formal though Gavin Bjarnson as Weaselton, whoops — Weselton is more snively and sneezly than royal. The Summer Chorus and Snow Angels ensembles are beautifully costumed and elegant, performing the Can Can, the Charleston and the ballet as they swirl and twirl ribbon wands, umbrellas or beach balls. The costumes of the Hidden Folk, and Oaken’s Family are amazing, the first ensemble in feathers and green magic, and the second decked out with knitted gloves, wool hats and Norwegian accents.

Both costume and choreography are impressive in “Frozen Jr.” It must have been a challenge for costumer Sue Quakenbush and her daughter Sara to design for so many ensembles and fit 57 different bodies in just five weeks. Lauren Blair’s talent for choreography shines bright in “Frozen Jr.,” and the movements of the 57 member cast filled the stage just as the musical numbers filled the hall, a remarkable achievement given that the full cast had only four days on the stage to finish and polish.

“Frozen Jr.” has all the best characteristics of a children’s dramatic production and audience response proves the success of TMTOs choice of play and Cailey McCandless’ direction. Acts are brief and filled with motion, color and sound. The narrative is efficient, and scenes are concise and compact. Emotions are simple and so is the language and when there were monologues, these are no longer than a minute. Set changes are frequent and augmented with projections, snow and glittering sprinkles. The entire play from start to finish is just 60 minutes long with no intermission and before you know it, before you’re ready, the splendid display of “Disney’s Frozen Jr.” is at its end and summer has returned to Arendelle.

“Frozen Jr.” has a short run, with three more performances scheduled Friday, Dec. 20, and Saturday Dec. 21, at the Craterian Theatre, 23 South Central in downtown Medford. For more information, visit Craterian.org; for tickets, call 541-779-3000.

Reach Ashland freelance writer Maureen Flanagan Battistella at mbattistellaor@gmail.com

From left, Christopher Kranenburg, as Kristoff, Kaiya Bagley, as Elsa, Sarah Metwally, as Anna, and Will Sayler, as Hans, star in Teen Musical Theater of Oregon's production of Frozen, Jr. Photo by Jim Craven/www.jimcravenphoto.com