Content originated and adapted from CUE BROADWAY
Jennifer Lee, book writer, delves into Elsa and Anna’s subconscious for Disney’s Frozen the Musical.
She can’t blast ice from her fingertips, but Jennifer Lee has a lot in common with Elsa, the beloved character she created for “Frozen” loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen.” Most notably, self-doubt.
In her commencement speech to University of New Hampshire students a few years ago, Lee spoke about her own insecurities and the “I’m not good enough” motto by which she lived for so long. “I’m a bit of an expert on self-doubt,” she told the graduating class.
So when it came time to craft a character that fights against her fear and uncertainty, Lee channelled her own experiences. She said it was something that she and collaborator Kristen Anderson-Lopez, who wrote the lyrics to Frozen's songs, connected on.
The Creative team behind Frozen the Musical
(L to R: Jennifer Lee, Thomas Schumacher, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez, Michael Grandage)
“I think the layer of Elsa that both Kristen and I discovered in ourselves is the one where you have this energy or this power inside to create, to be a participant in the world, and you constantly battle internally, ‘Who do you think you are?’ instead of saying, ‘Why not me?’” Lee explains.
“And I think that fear is always there. There is more trepidation. You ask, ‘If I am bold, will I be embraced, or will I be seen as someone who is overstepping?’ That part of Elsa, that is a truth to us – that constant feeling of being afraid, that we don’t have a right to participate,” Lee continues.
With the expansion of the story for the stage, Lee was able to dive deeper into the psyches of Elsa and Anna, which Anderson-Lopez conveys in the lyrics of the new songs. These inner looks through song replaced the close-ups present in the film version of the story.
"In the theatre, on stage, we can’t get that close-up, but we can get inside her mind."
“One of my favourite examples is the song ‘Dangerous to Dream,’” Lee says. “In the film, you have Elsa’s coronation in a very tight close-up, and her hands are shaking, and you understand the fear and can evoke all of the emotions that are going on. In the theatre, on stage, we can’t get that close-up, but we can get inside her mind.
“That’s why the theatre is so great. And so, I wrote this very long monologue that didn’t just encompass the fear of the moment, but also this goodness, this ‘What I wish my life could be if I could tell them who I was, if I could be who I am, this is what I would say. But I am dangerous.’”
"Through the process of exploring Elsa’s thoughts, Lee discovered... warmth, just under the icy surface."
Through the process of exploring Elsa’s thoughts, Lee discovered a tremendous amount of warmth, just under the icy surface.
“As I cracked that, there was a flood of warmth and of longing, and that was so important for me,” says Lee. “And also for the show, because we were going to spend a lot more time with Elsa. We were going to go deeper into her fears of being a monster and what that looks like. And by doing that – what I love – is we really discovered a whole, deeper layer to her.”
It wasn’t a matter of skewing the story so that it appealed more to adults. That was never an issue for Lee, even with the film, which she co-directed. Her story was always meant to be understood and enjoyed on multiple levels. It was more a matter of having the freedom to stretch out through character development, which naturally gave the story more sophistication and depth.
Find out more about Frozen the Musical and secure your tickets today for West End performances up until October 2022.