Arts Playlist: Mount Pleasant High School premieres Delaware's first-ever high school production of “Disney's Frozen: The Broadway Musical”
The 2013 film “Frozen” is one of Disney’s most popular movies and the second highest-grossing animated film of all time.
It spawned a Broadway musical version and following a national competition, one high school in every state is now getting a first crack at bringing it to the stage. In Delaware, Mount Pleasant High School was picked to present the state’s first-ever high school production of “Disney's Frozen: The Broadway Musical.”
For this week’s edition of Arts Playlist, Delaware Public Media’s Quinn Kirkpatrick visited rehearsals to get a preview of how Mount Pleasant’s preparations are going ahead of the show’s debut.
Disney’s stage adaptation of Frozen opened on Broadway in March 2018, but since its debut, the full-length version of it has not been available for licensing and use.
That is until the Educational Theatre Association, Disney Theatrical Group, and Music Theatre International decided to open the door for a small group of schools to mount productions – and Mount Pleasant High School jumped at the chance to bring the show to the First State.
“They were having a contest called The United States of Frozen: Love Is An Open Door where one high school in each of the 50 states and territories would win the rights to perform Frozen for free. For 3 performances, they’d give you the music, they’d do all this. You just had to say what made your group diverse, how you were going to live the theme love is an open door, and make sure you were using a live orchestra,” explained Chris Turner, Drama Director at Mount Pleasant High School. “We always use a live orchestra, we don’t believe in canned music at all. We think it’s horrible, so we use a live orchestra. We applied, and we talked about our diverse program. Mount Pleasant has the highest number of LGBTQ kids in the district, and I think we’re over 70% people of color. So we applied, and the next thing you know they selected us. So, we were very honored by that.”
The school’s version of the show opens March 30th – making it the first-ever production of Frozen in Delaware and one of the first-ever school productions of the musical anywhere in the world.
Turner says they were adamant about having a diverse cast, and were lucky to have a wide range of female identifying students audition for the show. The two students they felt best represented the lead roles of Anna and Elsa are Black. And from the start, Turner said he had no plans to make them hide their differences from the original characters.
“One of the things I told both of them was ‘I want you to embody this character as your own. So we’re used to seeing Elsa with blonde hair, and it going white. Or Anna with red hair, and a white streak in the second act. Wear your hair how you naturally want to wear your hair. Own this character as your own.’ And they said ‘really, I can do that?’ and I said ‘yes, this is what this is about.’ So they’re embracing that fully. And that’s one of the nice things about it,” said Turner.
Mount Pleasant Senior Leyah Eggeleston is playing Elsa. She says having grown up watching Disney Princesses –who have historically shown very little diversity in terms of body type, race, and ethnicity – she found it difficult to imagine herself as one of them.
“It feels weird. It feels like ‘Am I doing the wrong thing? Am I supposed to be here? Am I supposed to be this character?’ And I think the part about me being young is I’m surrounded by people who look like me. People who look like me and want to be seen. That’s what keeps me feeling like I can do this. I can be this character. I can be Elsa,” said Eggeleston. “Even though I don’t look like Elsa from Frozen I look like my own Elsa. And we’re doing this show because this is Mount’s show, and I’m in Mount’s cast and I’m Mount’s Elsa.”
Eggeleston looked to Broadway star Sierra Renee, who played the first Black Elsa on Broadway, for inspiration, but says she hopes her performance lends to the competition’s goal to promote inclusivity and uniqueness and help anyone feel they can become the characters they’ve seen on stage and screen.
“It’s such a big step for the future of theater, for people to be able to play these characters,” noted Eggeleston. “Personally for me, being plus size, there’s not a lot of me in Disney princesses. And I think that’s probably the closest thing to my heart here is to see those little girls who look like me in the audience. And getting to see them on stage playing a princess that they wouldn’t have seen before. So I think that’s just what’s so cool with the way we get to represent ourselves with Frozen.”
While the cast works to reflect themselves and their community in their characters, Mount’s live musical accompaniment is taking on its own role – one of a Broadway orchestra.
Brian Drumbore is Mount’s Band Director, and serves as the Director of the Orchestra for their productions.
He says the orchestral experience for Frozen is unique in several ways.
“So the orchestra for this production is huge compared to a lot of the stuff that we’ve done for the past couple years. And the interesting part about these parts for the students involved, and the adults involved, is that you rarely get to see the first cut of a book, basically,” he said.
The orchestration books were taken from the original production, and edited and modified slightly as they went through the West End production in London.
Normally, Drumbore explains, when the books reach high schools, they’ve gone through many more revisions spanning a number of years.
“And eventually these books will go through the same sort of revision process. But it’s been really neat for the kids to see that this is what a professional musician plays out of, this is the difficulty level of what they play out of. And also it has all of the markings that a professional orchestra would use. So it says when their click track would have come in, when their click track would have gone out, when certain sound effects would have been heard,” explained Drumbore. “When dance moves are going on on stage – it has all the choreography notes in it, and stuff like that. So that’s been a really neat learning experience to be able to provide for the kids that are in the orchestra. We have 9 students who are playing for the show, and the rest of the books are being supplemented by adults.”
And Mount has embraced the monumental task of putting on Frozen for the first time in the state.
Two other schools in the Delaware Valley – in Pennsylvania and New Jersey – were also winners of the competition. Mount collaborated with them to organize a press event, helping to bring more attention to each school’s show.
Early on production, Mount sent out a call to the community, alumni, and alumni parents to bolster the production. And they answered.
“As soon as they hear ‘Mount Pleasant High School, only school in Delaware’ – they’re helping us out,” said Turner. “Light Action Productions, which is a lighting company here in Delaware, they have donated so much lighting to us. Like what would normally be about $50,000 worth of lighting. They said ‘give us an ad, give us some tickets, this is for a great cause, we will give you most of it for free.’”
Turner found that to be the case for many of their asks. Instead of having to make do with older equipment, the cast, crew, and orchestra received many gifts and discounts from local businesses who wanted to support the students and the show.
“There’s so many people who love Frozen. It was such a big deal when it came out. And I think people just want to see it. And they love that we get to represent our entire state with Frozen. That’s just such a cool thing to do. The love and support for this show has been crazy different, and I just think it’s cool that we have that support system here,” Eggeleston said, reflecting on past productions she’s participated in at Mount.
There are undoubtedly high hopes for the musical at Mount Pleasant.
Both Turner and Drumbore – like many in the community – want the production to be a success, but more importantly, they want audiences to walk away with a greater appreciation and understanding for arts education.
Turner wants more people to realize that schools like Mount can excel in putting on a production at this level.
“My hope is that when people come see this show, they realize that performing arts, theatrical arts music, orchestra, theatre, everything all wrapped in one, can exist outside of schools that specialize in that. That there are other places to go to do this. That they’re going to come here and go ‘wow, this is why arts education is so important, and I did not know that this could be done at a high school,’” he said.
Drumbore wants people to see that a quality arts education belongs in every school across the county.
“The arts belong everywhere in education, not just in specialized schools,” stated Drumbore. “They belong in every single school in the entire country and every single child in this country should have a quality music education taught by quality music educators, a quality arts education taught by arts educators. Theatre, drama, dance, everything should be available because it weaves into everybody's life in different ways.”
Mount Pleasant High School’s production of “Disney's Frozen: The Broadway Musical” premieres on Thursday, March 30th. It runs through April 1st, and Saturday’s matinee will be an ASL-interpreted performance.
Some tickets are still available – info on buying them can be found at mphsdrama.com.