“Standing frozen in the life I’ve chosen,” may be among the lyrics in the iconic song “Let It Go,” but Frozen on Broadway is anything but stillness. Choreographer Rob Ashford demonstrates his talents from orchestrating a coronation ball sequence to capturing the haunting beauty of being alone in the icy mountains, and how so many emotions can be achieved simple through movement. With a slew of awards and nominations, Ashford’s Broadway portfolio speaks for itself. His creative process always begins with researching the time period to get a sense of where dance was during that time. More importantly, he says a large part of his work is character study.
“I discover who the characters are as people and how might they move, focusing on how their movement or dancing enhances their story,” said Ashford. “It’s not just the story that’s playing out between them; it’s about making movement a character asset instead of just entertainment.”
Like many Disney classic films before it, Frozen follows in the footsteps of Beauty and The Beast, The Lion King and Aladdin with a jump to Broadway. With more stage time, Ashford noted that the crew had the ability to go deeper into characters and the world of Arendelle. And having the original film’s songwriters Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and writer Jennifer Lee on board allowed them to give such insight into the characters.
“I’ve always admired Disney and what they do as a company and theatre production. I loved the film and when I saw it, thought it was perfect for the stage but there wasn’t much dancing in the film,” said Ashford, noting that as a choreographer he had the opportunity to find moments that might be fun to express physically. “For example, the freezing and falling of Anna after she is struck by Elsa was very simple but more poetic and technical in movement and that seems to hit you in the heart in the right way.”
In taking liberties with the production, Ashford and director Michael Grandage’s willingness to be abstract was one moment of discovery after the next when choreographing the show. Working together many times before, Ashford and Grandage understand the value and theatricality of how a human moment can be more powerful and beautiful than all the special effects in the world.
“This show has all of the elements of human touch and Michael was very willing and excited about the idea of discovering that. My favorite thing to do when creating a show is finding those moments that can tug at your heart with joy or sadness or warmth,” said Ashford. “‘Dangerous to Dream’ is one of my favorites in the show because it is so well structured and beautifully done. It’s a great peek into Elsa to understand this girl who runs off into the mountains on her own.”
Happy that he got to explore some non-naturalist moments—which pay off in the show—Ashford also spoke about the new musical numbers that every show that goes from screen to stage must have. Specifically, he shares the scenes with the hidden folk and mythological creatures in the mountains and how they were used to counterbalance the fairytale aspect of Frozen.
“Elsa embodies the mythical side with her magic and powers while Anna is more the fairytale side with her dreams of seeing the outside of the castle,” he said. “It’s wonderful to mix them together, the people of the mountains who raised Kristoff and worship nature compared to the people of the court and Arendelle.”
Like any choreographer worth his dance shoes, Ashford wanted all of the dances to be used in storytelling to their best effect, and like the film, teaching wonderful lessons along the way.
“You go to the theatre to see a great story open up in front of you. Frozen is about self-acceptance for both Elsa and Anna and the love for their family,” said Ashford of this unconventional love story between two sisters. “It’s a lot of fun to go along on this journey.”
For tickets to Frozen, call 866-870-2717 or visit www.frozenthemusical.com. Frozen is currently in residence at the St. James Theatre, located at 246 West 44th St. in Manhattan.