‘Frozen’ is coming to EHS

In an interesting bit of foreshadowing, the EHS Drama Team traveled to Walt Disney world last fall, and performed a scene from “Frozen.” (COURTESY PHOTO)

EVANSTON — It’s going to be a frosty spring at Evanston High School when “Frozen: The Musical” transforms the auditorium into the enchanted world of Arendelle. The musical theater department at EHS learned last week the school was a winner in the United States of Frozen contest to become one of the first theaters outside of Broadway tours to secure the rights to produce the show based on Disney’s smash animated hit.
Theater department director Erin Russell and vocal music director Heather Blackwell shared the news with students, staff and the public after Music Theatre International announced the 51 high schools — one per state and Puerto Rico — who were named winners of the contest and granted the production rights to the musical. Those productions can take place anytime from this fall up until January 2024 and will be the first school performances of the full-length musical not just in the United States but the world.
Blackwell and Russell shared a bit about the contest and the process required to earn the prestigious honor, noting they both first heard about the contest over the summer and at first didn’t rush to apply, largely because of the challenges associated with hosting some of the very first productions of a Broadway musical. According to the pair, those challenges include staging, set and costume design and music. For previous EHS musical productions, and most musical productions in schools, backing musical tracks are available so students can sing along to pre-recorded music. For “Frozen”, just as is the case with touring Broadway productions, there are no backing tracks in existence and the music will have to be performed by live musicians. Similar challenges apply to staging, sets and costumes because the musical  isn’t widely available for performances and therefore there aren’t a lot of options to purchase pieces that might normally be purchased for other musicals.
In spite of the daunting nature of those challenges, the two directors ultimately decided to apply because the opportunity was simply too good to pass up, so they set about submitting the strongest application possible. That application process included providing photos and descriptions from previous musical productions to demonstrate how the school had designed costumes and sets to bring those stories to life.
Russell and Blackwell also touted the award-winning EHS drama and vocal music departments. The EHS Drama Devils are the reigning three-time state champions of the Wyoming Thespian Festival and the vocal music department has had numerous students earn All-State and regional awards over the past several years.
A huge piece of the application, in addition to highlighting the previous productions and award-winning performances, was an explanation of the directors’ vision for Frozen and the contest theme of “Love is an Open Door.” Russell said their application focused strongly on the diversity and inclusion that is the heart of the musical theater department, explaining that everyone is welcome in the programs in which the students become like family. She said that previous musical productions have included upwards of 80 students between cast and crew, which amounts to about 10% of the EHS student body and includes students of all races, LGBTQ students, and students from all different social groups throughout the school.
“That theme, ‘Love is an Open Door,’ spoke to us a lot,” she said. “We strive to be a safe haven for all students.”
Russell said the theater department emphasizes three values — be present, be kind and be fearless — and the application materials emphasized the same. “We try to do that when putting on a show,” she said. “Taking risks is the only way to achieve greatness because we learn from failure.”
“We’re not just making art, we’re making good humans,” said Russell, sentiments echoed by Blackwell, who added, “Art can open people’s minds and hearts.”
Application materials also focused on community involvement and outreach, noting that local businesses are used for promotional materials, cast and show photographs and T-shirts, for example, and that community members are invited and encouraged to attend productions.
Blackwell and Russell said students are thrilled about the musical and even staff members are jokingly asking if they can audition. “Kids are asking how we’re going to come up with effects to do the magic and if all their favorite songs are in this version,” said Blackwell, who noted all the songs from the film are indeed included and a few more added for the stage version. “We’re going to have to problem solve and figure it all out. The way we decide to interpret it and design it allows us to really make it our own,” she said.
In a change that had been planned prior to the Frozen announcement, the musical will take place at the end of March next year as opposed to early May. Blackwell explained they had decided to change it to prevent conflicts with end-of-year AP testing and events and so that the production will occur prior to spring break instead of having that week-long break interrupt the momentum of rehearsals. Auditions are slated to take place in early January.
The six months until then will likely fly by, filled with choir concerts, All-State auditions and competitions, the EHS fall play in October and more, and in no time at all Evanston’s talented teens will tackle the beloved characters of Anna, Elsa, Olaf and Sven.
Perhaps Russell put it best when she shared the announcement on Facebook, quoting the heroine Anna, “I don’t know if I’m elated or gassy, but it’s somewhere in that zone.”


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