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Flathead High School brings Broadway’s ‘Frozen’ to the stage

by HILARY MATHESON
Daily Inter Lake | November 9, 2023 12:00 AM

A more complex story than its movie counterpart with music fit for the Broadway stage, Flathead High School students next week will showcase Disney’s “Frozen.” 

FHS will be the first school in Montana to produce the stage version of “Frozen” after winning the United States of Frozen competition in September 2022. One high school was selected from each state to win production and performance rights and script and score materials through the nationwide competition organized by the Educational Theatre Association, Disney Theatrical Group and Music Theatre International.

Written for professional performers, what sets the Broadway version apart from a typical high school musical is the degree of difficulty, according to director of Flathead’s production, Luke Johnson, and lead performers Sophia Bennett, who plays Elsa, and Gracyne Johnson, who plays Anna.

“It involves a lot more of like vocal technique,” Gracyne said, who has performed in musicals since fourth grade through Bigfork Children’s Theatre.

On top of all the songs in the 2013 animated movie, the Broadway musical features 23 additional songs in the approximately two-hour-long performance.

“It’s definitely a lot,” she said.

However, she and Sophia agreed with critics’ opinion that the “Frozen” characters have more depth in the musical adaptation, including more scenes featuring another lead character Kristoff, played by FHS student Ben Moore.

“At first, I thought, Anna, she's a little bit annoying; a little bit naive in the movie but I read the Broadway [script] and her arc is honestly crazy,” Gracyne said. “She starts out very playful and very ready to see anything new because she’s been isolated and stuck by herself for so long that she wants any kind of adventure. She has so much curiosity, she’s kind of bouncing off the walls, but then it progresses into like, how much love she has for her sister and her sister keeps pushing her away.”

The complexity of the sister’s bond is expressed in what Graceyn described as a tearjerker titled “I Can’t Lose You,” a new song exclusive to the high school productions.

“They both have these different meanings of losing each other. And yeah, it’s heartbreaking,” she said. “It’s one of the most beautiful songs in the show. It’s probably my favorite, but it kind of shows their development. I think that it really digs deep into the character's love for each other.”

Sophia said Broadway’s addition of the song “Monster” illustrates the turmoil Elsa’s character wrestles with in greater depth than the movie.

“‘Monster’ is the biggest song and is the most intense song and it’s her questioning if she is the monster like people have said. If she is worthy [enough] to keep living and to keep having these powers that presumably just keep hurting people,” she said. “She asked herself, ‘If I die, will they be free?”

Dancing has also been incorporated into the musical by assistant director and choreographer Kacie Bray. A snow chorus of seven dancers was created to embody the movement of wintry weather that is an integral part of “Frozen.”

“They’re people coming in from all different types of backgrounds of dancing,” Sophia said. “I know one of them has only really done hip-hop dance, and some of the other ones have done more classical stuff, but it’s just been really cool because all of them have been able to convey the same message [in the choreography].”

Dancing and singing make for a physically demanding performance for the high schoolers.

“We also have a 21-student orchestra, so that music is also designed for professionals …” Luke added.

The orchestra, under the direction of Eric Holdhusen, will perform on stage with the actors rather than a traditional pit. Luke said this is because of the stage configuration in the school auditorium where the production will be held.

“This is the first show since 1988 that’s been in the auditorium. It’s been set up for choir and band concerts,” which he said makes for great acoustics, however, the stage extends outward where a pit would be. “So there’s definitely a lot of challenges in trying to make this usable for a musical.”

STUDENTS AND teachers from other classes have also helped take the production up a notch in costume and set design, with assistance from students in woods/shop and sewing classes.

A lot of work also goes into behind-the-scenes technical aspects of lighting and sound to pinning down fast costume changes, including Elsa’s on-stage “snowy dress” reveal during the famed song, “Let it Go.” 

On this production, Liz Sykora served as the set designer, April Williams oversaw costuming, and Bethany Shehan served as technical director.

Luke said more than 20 schools have finished their performance so far. Before production got underway at Flathead, all the high school directors met virtually to share ideas, techniques and successes.

“The first meeting we had, Robert Lopez led the meeting,” Luke Johnson said.

Robert Lopez and his wife, Kristen Anderson-Lopez, co-wrote the songs, including the Academy-Award-winning original “Let it Go,” in the Disney movie “Frozen.” 

The Broadway musical has challenged Graceyn and Sophia in new ways.

Sophia is fairly new to musical theater. She was a member of the Brainiacs ensemble in the school production of Disney’s “High School Musical,” and was cast in another musical that was shut down due to Covid-19 restrictions, but she’s been in choir for most of her life. 

“Elsa has just a crazy range … but I’m getting out of my shell and doing things I haven’t done before,” Sophia said, such as going before a large audience. “I’m really trying to push myself.”

“I think for me, it’s the level of endurance in a Broadway show,” Graceyn said. “I’m not used to having to use my voice that much and the amount of dancing … it’s not something I’ve done before.”

The cast also includes: Aubrie Mannon as young Anna, Abigail O’Connell as young Elsa, Adina Lockwood as Olaf, Collin Olson as Hans, Bronson Willcut as Sven, Ryan Kitzmiller as Duke of Weselton, Nate Wilhelm as Oaken, Samara Hackley as Queen Iduna, Cole Knutson as King Agnarr, Peyton Bicha as Pabbie, Nalani Sullivan as Bulda, and Bayliss Cummings as the bishop.

Performances are scheduled to start at 6:27 p.m. Nov. 16, 17 and 18. A matinee performance on Nov. 18 is at 1 p.m. Tickets are $14 for adults and $12 for students and seniors. Tickets may be purchased online through https://gofan.co/ or in the main office, 644 4th Ave W, Kalispell.


Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or hmatheson@dailyinterlake.com.


    Flathead High School student Sophia Bennett rehearses a scene as Elsa from the musical "Frozen" inside the auditorium at Flathead High School on Tuesday, Oct. 24. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)    Flathead High School students Sophia Bennett, left, as Elsa, and Gracyne Johnson, right, as Anna, rehearse a scene from the musical "Frozen" inside the auditorium at Flathead High School on Tuesday, Oct. 24. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
 Flathead High School students Benjamin Moore, left, as Kristof, and Gracyne Johnson, as Anna, rehearse a scene from the musical "Frozen" inside the auditorium at Flathead High School on Tuesday, Oct. 24. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)

    Flathead High School students Collin Olson, left, as Hans, and Ryan Kitzmiller, right, as Weselton, rehearse a scene from the musical "Frozen" inside the auditorium at Flathead High School on Tuesday, Oct. 24. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)