New Stage Players
South Sioux City Middle School
South Sioux City, Nebraska
Sunday, February 2, 2020
Yes, it’s winter, but I still haven’t had my fill of Frozen (Junior), which just finished it’s three-day run at South Sioux City Middle School. Frozen, roughly put, follows the fate of a Kingdom, its queen, and her icy magic that brings about a winter that seems like it might never end. All I know is that this Frozen Jr., put on by the three-year-old New Stage Players company, ended too soon for my liking. It had talent and heart enough to bring audiences (and my kids) back for another weekend, and maybe another. But as they say, keep them wanting more.
Dani Youngberg and Ellie Bush portray the adult(ish) royal sisters Anna and Elsa, but before these mature princesses can deal with a wintry mix of love and catastrophe, we meet their younger selves. Ruby Weitzel and Layla Lilly play the princesses in their middle youth; Tenley Throener and Camryn Glass play them at their youngest, when the spark of the story is first lit. Ms. Throener seems eerily fit for a mischievous early Anna. Ms. Glass’s Elsa wounds her sister with her magic, and is later told that fear of that magic “will be [your] enemy.” As far as I can see, there was no fear in these youngest actresses, who sang with big voices, confident smiles, and an impressive sense of who their characters were, even at that early age.
Before we get to know the mostly-grown royal sisters very well, we meet the citizens of Arendelle. Although this production, staged in a borrowed auditorium, went light on scenery, the costuming, like the performances, were convincing. Noted in the program as “Costume Goddesses,” Kristy Tremayne and Deb Morgan outfitted sixty youth actors to such a degree that it was clear nothing (and nobody) was overlooked and that the major visual element of the production was top-notch.
But let’s get to the heart of the matter, shall we please. While Frozen has its scheming villain and its romantic love, it is really the story of two sisters. Ms. Youngberg’s Anna is as different as Ms. Bush’s Elsa—as she should be. Though Anna appears at times to be awkward, Ms. Youngberg cracks viewers up with her comedic timing and a carefree personality that sometimes flirts with the careless (as well as with the foreign prince Hans). Ms. Bush’s Elsa, however, approaches everything and everyone with a fear of her own abilities. Elsa, who has escaped into the mountains, does not appear on stage as often as Anna, and so her character must be revealed even more efficiently. Ms. Bush is both efficient and subtle. She can make clear all of the fear and guilt without overdoing it and, if necessary, without saying or singing a word. In this regard, the play eclipses the animated film; there’s nothing like seeing human emotion on a human face. And, come on, let’s not forget that Ellie Bush can sing.
Frozen Jr. is a musical, after all, and it includes most of the songs you would expect if you’ve seen the movie—and then a couple more. The ensemble pieces hold together, and it’s obvious the soloists earned their spots. “Let It Go,” sung by Ms. Bush, captivated the audience and got the only applause of the evening from my clapping-averse four-year-old. The reprise, which featured the entire cast and served as the finale, elicited one of those rare, genuine, and spontaneous standing ovations—and at least a few tears from audience members nearby.
Once Elsa has begun to come to terms with her powers, she admits, “I never knew I could create something like this.” I imagine many of these young artists must have felt the same way before beginning this process, but they should rest assured that this Frozen, like Elsa’s powers, was magical. Unfortunately, this play has come and gone. If you’re someone (sigh), as I used to be, who thinks that youth theatre is just a petty indulgence, come out sometime and support young actors like these. Although they are certainly investing in their own futures, you’ll see they have something important to offer us right now.
Brendan Todt is a stay-at-home father who is pursuing a Masters of Fine Arts in Disney Studies at the University of Okoboji. His coursework seems to being going well enough, except for sometimes-strained relations with members of the faculty (his two sons).