Disney fans will find there is a lot to love about the national tour of Frozen.
First, the story follows the plot of the 2013 computer-animated film. Two orphaned sisters (an heir and a spare) literally and metaphorically navigate an icy storm to find their way back to each other and save their kingdom from an eternal winter.
Second, the score by Kristin Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez stays faithful to the movie with several numbers added to flesh out the story and provide ample opportunities for belting. And Jennifer Lee’s expanded book provides room for further character development and enough subtle quips and innuendos to keep indifferent grown-ups engaged.
For die-hards, this is Disney pageantry at its best. Christopher Oram’s Olivier-nominated jewel-tone costumes twinkle brilliantly ‘neath a cascade of bewitching videos and special effects.
So, what could be wrong?
In this production, Queen Iduna and King Agnarr are presented as an interracial couple. Subsequently, it is not surprising that Young Anna and Young Elsa are portrayed as biracial (at certain performances). Seeing a mixed-race family represented onstage is not only beautiful but also aligns with Disney’s diversity and inclusion program and the company’s commitment “to tell stories that reflect the rich diversity of the human experience.”
Or so it seems.
Now, I believe that seeing a Black Elsa onstage is just as significant as seeing a Black Ariel on film. Social media has been flooded with videos of Black little girls reacting to The Little Mermaid trailer, wherein Ariel is portrayed by Halle Bailey, a Black actress. Their reactions to Ariel send a strong message to corporations like Disney that representation matters.
How I would have loved to see Danielle Fiamanya stand in for Elsa on the West End or Ciara Renee play Elsa on Broadway.
So, why then in this national touring production of Frozen, is Young Elsa played by a lovely, dark-skinned, Black actress (Sydney Elise Russell) at certain performances while both actresses portraying Queen Elsa (Caroline Bowman and her understudy Caelan Creaser) are white presenting?
More importantly, what kind of message about beauty standards, white supremacy, and “welcoming spaces” does this send to the Black girls in the audience at DPAC who minutes before Queen Elsa appeared onstage (as a white woman), saw themselves represented by a young Black princess?
Indeed, this brazen whitewashing of the character of Elsa mid-show is not only unsettling but also reinforces negative biases and devalues Black women. Moreover, it is an indication of how seemingly well-intentioned color-conscious casting decisions can go awry when those decisions are being made blindly by predominantly white creative teams.
Is it too dangerous to dream that a Black woman is worthy to be Queen? Of course, not. The kids are eager. I guess it’s just Disney that’s not ready to fully commit.
Frozen runs through October 2 at the Durham Performing Arts Center. For more information visit https://www.dpacnc.com/.