Stage

Why the Frozen Story is More than Just a White Blizzard

Mason Reeves as Kristoff in the North American tour of Frozen.
Mason Reeves as Kristoff in the North American tour of Frozen. Photo by Deen van Meer

When Mason Reeves first took on the role of Kristoff the ice harvester in the musical Frozen, he got a sad serving of outrage directed his way from people upset that a Black man was playing a role initiated by a white character. We're talking a white animated character remember. 

"When I was first starting rehearsals I would get racist messages on the internet, people being angry and saying Kristoff's not Black and there weren't Black people in Europe in the 1600s."

"My only response to those people was 'There also weren't people with ice powers or talking snowmen and both of those exist in this universe.'"

Frozen is coming to Houston complete with Reeves as Kristoff in a two-week-plus run courtesy of Broadway at the Hobby. The national touring group with a cast of about 24 actors had a stop and start beginning thanks to the pandemic, but now is traveling the country after re-setting off in Buffalo, NY.

The musical with music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, and book by Jennifer Lee, has added several songs to the 2013 Disney film, The basic premise remains the same: two royal sisters — Elsa and Anna — who are estranged because of Elsa's powers that she hasn't learned to control. Anna's near death experience when she was young at the hands of her sister has been blocked from her memory and she doesn't understand why Elsa shuts herself off from her.

As the story goes on, Elsa is crowned Queen, accidentally unleashes her powers, is branded a monster and flees the scene, not knowing that she has left behind her kingdom of Arendelle in a very frozen state. Anna, who has fallen for the visiting Hans, goes in search of her sister and encounters Kristoff and reindeer Sven.

Reeves sees Kristoff  as "very much to himself. His whole life his best friend is a reindeer." At the same time, however, he says Kristoff is open to change. And in the musical he gets a couple new songs that delve deeper into Kristoff's character.

Reeves submitted an audition tape for Frozen while still a junior in college at the University of Michigan. He got a call back and a trip to New York City and to his great surprise, was hired. "So I finished my senior year on the road taking classes online." College in one way prepared him for life on the road, he says, because in both cases he was thrown into close quarters with people he didn't know.

"Things I learned on tour that I wasn't prepared for: it’s hard to do a show eight times a week for a full year; it's really exhausting. So it was important to learn how to pace myself myself in a way that I can give the best show possible every night for every audience but not be completely exhausted all the time."

And for this show: water is essential.

"My costume is super hot," he says laughing while explaining his hydration needs. "With Elsa freezing all of Arendelle, we are like in a big winter blizzard for the whole show.  I have these intense leather pants, these big heavy snow boots and a wool sweater and a leather jacket that I wear over the top of it that would be really great if it was actually 20 degrees outside, but it is just 75 in the theater or whatever so I am just burning up in there and sweating. But the costumes look amazing."

They toured for about five months before the pandemic started and then everything shut down. They reconvened in August 2021 and they've been going non-stop since then.

Reeves comes by his interest in musicals honestly. "My great aunt was an opera singer and my mom does community theater and plays the cello." She put him in plays throughout his childhood and although he says he was first resistant, he grew to love acting.

Why does he like doing musicals? "I’m really attracted to the way that music and melody can pull at your emotions," he says. "The music carries the emotion of the song and the text sits on top as the human trying to explain what they're feeling. But the music is really telling the truth."

Asked for the reason for Frozen's continued success, Reeves says: " I think what it is is it taps into that be Disney thing of being able to appeal to all ages. "What I love about it is that a lot of the adults coming to the show thinking like I'm going to this for my kids and they end up leaving being like 'Wait, why was that speaking to me and why am I crying?'

"Sisterhood is the center of this show and powerful women. It's beautiful to see something that is led by women and created by women and written by women and is about the strength of going after what you want and not giving in to people telling you that you can't achieve what you want to achieve. and it's also about being yourself which I think every human being needs.

"The most important thing for me about playing this role is that I am just entirely being myself and who I am happens to be somebody that fits with Kristoff regardless of my skin color. I see a lot of little kids of color after the show  and I always try to wave to them or say something to them because I think if I was their age and I got to see somebody like me doing something like this maybe I wouldn't  have felt like I was such an outlier. I love to be able to show people there are many ways to be Black."

Performances are scheduled for June 30 through July 17 at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays, 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sundays at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby, For more information, call 800-982-2787 or visit thehobbycenter.org or broadwayatthehobbycenter.com. $35-$85.
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing