Gas Lamp Juniors to thaw even the most frozen heart with ‘Frozen’ production

Photo Courtesy of Gas Lamp Players
Lead actors in the Gas Lamp Juniors production of ‘Frozen’ are, from left, Lola Zimet, Alena Cudia, Claire Liotta and Sofia Perez.

GLEN RIDGE, NJ — The Gas Lamp Juniors will present Disney’s “Frozen,” in junior musical form, at Ridgewood Avenue School on Friday, July 15, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, July 16, at 1 p.m. The production is under the direction of Heather Ballantyne.

The story of “Frozen” is a loose adaptation of “The Snow Queen,” by Hans Christian Andersen, which was published in 1844. The Disney version was a 2013 blockbuster computer-animated film. A Broadway musical followed; it closed March 11, 2020, due to the pandemic, after 825 performances, but, with the easing of health restrictions, has been staged worldwide.

The Disney story, extensively simplified from its source material, is about love, fear, and two sisters, Anna and Elsa. The girls love each other but are estranged. Their separation is because Elsa possesses the ability to create ice and snow, and accidentally hurts Anna with this power. Anna recovers, but the accident is wiped from her memory. Determined to avoid hurting Anna again, Elsa lives apart from Anna, who does not understand her sister’s behavior. 

In the Gas Lamp Juniors production, both sisters are double cast. Glen Ridge High School rising freshmen Sofia Perez and Claire Liotta play Anna; GRHS rising sophomore Lola Zimet and rising eighth-grader Alena Cudia, who attends St. Catherine’s School in Montclair, perform as Elsa. The nuanced roles — in which the actors must express confusion, love, bravery and more — are especially challenging to play. At a recent rehearsal, the girls explained some traits of their characters.

“Anna is a very bubbly, energetic character,” Sofia said. “She has a lot of love for her sister. She wants to regain the relationship because she’s lost without her. That’s what the whole show is about: family love and what true love is. But Elsa has ice powers. She can shoot snow and ice out of her hands. 

“It’s very interesting,” Sofia said.

The biggest challenge for her as an actor, Sofia said, was portraying the emotions of Anna, who has so much love for her sister but also feels a deep hurt from their estrangement. 

The character of Anna sings two solos: “For the First Time in Forever” and “True Love.” Anna and Elsa also reprise “For the First Time in Forever,” in the finale.

Claire explained her portrayal of Anna as someone who is very optimistic, but vulnerable.

“She wears her heart on her sleeve,” she said. “Acting it, you really have to put it all out there, all the emotion. You have to balance the pain with her love. But the pain is more difficult to portray. It’s harder to show pain, but it’s more interesting.”

Lola said her character, Elsa, is very complex.

“She doesn’t know how to control her ice powers, so she’s isolated herself all her life,” Lola said. “She’s afraid she’ll hurt Anna. One of the hardest parts portraying her is that she wants to protect her sister, but she wants to keep her powers a secret from her sister. The first accident happened when they were little kids and she’s forgotten.”

Alena, who also plays Elsa, said she likes the song “Monster,” which she sings, because hearing it, one may wonder if Elsa really is a monster because of the troubles her powers cause.

“Anna is the most important person in Elsa’s life,” Alena said. “After she hurts her again, she’s horrified. She thinks she really is a monster.”

Alena said she prefers expressing the character more through song than action.

“It’s a deeper dive into what the character is feeling, at that moment, with music,” she said. 

Ballantyne said there are 75 children in the cast, and the Gas Lamp summer theater camp has a large staff.

“You can only do this show with a lot of help,” she said. “Ordinarily, I have four to five months to produce a show. We had to put this together in eight or nine days.”

The running time of the show is approximately one hour with no intermission. There are about a dozen songs with some live musical accompaniment, but mostly recorded music for the junior version. An admission fee will be charged. 

“I’m just so happy we’re back at Ridgewood,” Ballantyne said. “We were supposed to do ‘Frozen’ in 2020, but we did it online. A lot of the kids wanted to do it live.”

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