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Disney's "Frozen" Musical Has Birthed a Mutual Admiration Society Among Cast Members


Disney’s 2013 Oscar-winning animated worldwide phenomenon Frozen, with colossal grosses in excess of $1.300-trillion, is now a Tony-nominated Broadway live-action musical phenomenon by the film’s Oscar-winning husband and wife composers Kristin Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (Coco). Robert’s also the Tony-winning co-writer of The Book of Mormon and Avenue Q. Loosely-inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, Frozen: The Broadway Musical is the story of fearless Princess Anna who sets off with a rugged mountain man in search of her sister Elsa, now Queen, whose curse of cryokinesis has inadvertently trapped their kingdom in eternal winter.

FrozenCLevyPMurinOpenNightScreenplay writer Jennifer Lee created a more nuanced, sometimes darker, script for the stage. The Lopez’s wrote over a dozen new tunes to supplement the film’s immensely popular power ballads, “Let It Go” and “For the First Time Forever.” The show has shattered the ice ceiling at the St. James Theatre, with week after week record-breaking grosses approaching $3-million -- far exceeding previous record holder, The Producers. Of course, ticket prices are higher. Incidentally, the figures don’t include a virtual department store of souvenir merchandise.

Following a weekend of laying down tracks for the show’s just-released cast album, the men and women of Frozen -- Jelani Alladin, in his Broadway debut, who portrays Kristoff; Caissie Levy, Queen Elsa; John Riddle, the dashing Prince Hans; Patti Murin, sweet Princess Anna; and Greg Hildreth, the human alter ego of Olaf the snowman sat to, in the words of the show’s breakout hit, let it go.

Though it immediately becomes apparent there’s a mutual admiration between the cast members, the men quickly address the media fascination surrounding Elsa’s salute to female-empowerment by wearing pants [quite glamorous ones] as she turns her world into icy tundra.

“Oh, and it’s not just onstage,” laughs Riddle. “Caissie proudly wears the pants off stage, but in a good way. She’s the essence of female empowerment and an incredible team leader. We happily quick-step behind her.”

FrozenJelaniAlladinJohnRiddleGregHildrethC-AEcclesIt starts at the top, observes Hildreth, the seasoned pro of three successful Broadway musicals (Cinderella, Peter and the Starcatcher, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson). “It’s nice and rare being in a hit, but what makes coming to work such a joy is having Caissie and Patti as team captains.”

“I’m the new kid on the block,” Alladin notes. “I’ve worked Off Broadway and regionally, so I didn’t know anyone. As luck would have it, when I auditioned I was paired with Caissie. She was amazingly generous, and when she sang it was like time stopped. Her dressing room door’s always open, she’s always reaching out, cheering us on.”

“Patti and I have known each other forever,” states Riddle. “She’s long been my spark of creation. Seeing her bring Anna to life has been a joy. The warmth you see onstage is real. She’s gives so much to the company. When you’re part of something that’s surely going to be around for a while, it’s wonderful to be working in that sort of atmosphere. The company looks out for each other. Even when one person is out, you feel the loss of them. The nature of the show is all about caring – how Anna goes in search of Elsa, so to not have a company like this would be a disservice to the piece.”

“John,” boasts Levy, “is special onstage and off. He’s a triple threat, with everything you’d want in a leading man: charisma, an absolutely stunning singing voice, and he can act. Best of all, he’s a team player. His star will continue to rise.” 

FrozenKristoffAnnaIceBridge“The first time I heard John’s absolutely glorious voice,” recalls Murrin, “I was blown away. As brilliant as he is as an actor, the support and love he offers when we're onstage is unmatched. He will, literally and figuratively, never let me fall. I'm lucky that I get to watch him every single day. His performance is one of the most complicated and masterful. I’m in awe how, in the first act, he goes about smoothly, craftily planting the seeds for the stunning events at end of the show.”

Riddle, whom Anna falls head over heels for on first sighting, has the challenge of making audiences forget the film. “My job as Hans is to trick audiences into believing I’m really Prince Charming. Then, in the big reveal, when my true motives come out, to shock them. I love it when they gasp! I’ve done my job. It’s fun to be the villain.”

The trio points out that with the deeper character development and new songs, the stage adaptation has gone beyond a kid-friendly animated film. “The show’s been flipped,” Greg says, “so there’s something for everyone.”

“When audiences enter,” adds Riddle, “there’s a certain expectation. You want to honor what’s become iconic; however, an actor, you want to say I dare you to rethink what this is and how deep it goes.”

In the area of rethinking, audiences might be surprised at Disney and Tony-and-Olivier-Award-winning director Michael Grandage’s big leap casting an African American as mountain man Kristoff.

“I was as surprised as anyone,” states Alladin. “When you go into auditions, you investigate the roles to see what might fit. After so much work Off Broadway and regionally, I was hoping to get anything. This is much more than a dream fulfilled, another thing I can check off on my bucket list. I’m grateful to Disney and Michael for the opportunity to have kids of color see a black man in the role.”

FrozenPMurinJRiddleMurin admires Alladin’s energy and enthusiasm. “Jelani faces every challenge with determination and verve. His heart’s bigger than anyone could ever know. We rely on each other a lot in this show, and I know from looking in his eyes that he has my back at all times.”

“This is Jelani’s first Broadway show and it certainly won’t be his last,” predicts Levy. “His Kristoff is strong and tender. Best of all, he’s everyone’s biggest cheerleader. And when he dances, he moves unlike anyone else! You can’t take your eyes off him.”

Olaf the snowman, whom moviegoers fell madly in love with [“he” even became a best-selling plush toy], has unique traits among snowpersons. He’s always seeking warmth and fearlessly loves fireplaces. “It’s been a two-year master class in puppetry,” explains Hildreth. “He’s now my new best friend.” While acting, singing and dancing, he’s tethered to the 5’ steel harness (covered with carbon fiber, foam, andyarn) and manipulates Olaf through some intricate finger trickery and a magnet which allows Olaf to pick things up. “It’s a new talent for my resume. My job is to make him front and center, and then sort of disappear.”

Levy and Murin adore Hildreth’s ability to make them laugh and his personal warmth. “Greg’s heart of gold shines through every performance,” says Levy. “He can do it all, one reason he’s so spectacular as Olaf.” Murin’s the one who has the most fun with him, “As soon as he enters, audiences’ faces light up. They feel what I feel. His task isn’t easy, but watching him is a master class in making some incredibly difficult look easy.”

The men speak for all with high praise for the man driving them through the icy slopes. “Michael’s allowed us to see how far we can go,” notes Hildreth. “He’s incredible to work with because he was an actor.” Riddle agrees, “Michael understands our frustrations and those moments when we’re searching to understand something. Best of all, he knows how to talk to an actor. From the beginning, he said, ‘This is yours. Do with it what you will.’ That’s the biggest gift an actor can have. You see how far you can go, and then, sometimes, you get reined in!”

Film Independent’s Project Involve Making Diversity & Inclusion for 25 years!


Every single year—like a grotesque rite of passage—an annual report detailing the lack of diversity, inclusion, and income in Hollywood is circulated and for a brief moment of time, all tongues are wagging and heads are swiveling around in disgust. Murmurs of “something must be done” swell in a cascade and then … another year rolls around, with another report and the ritual begins anew.

But twenty-five years ago the team at Film Independent said enough and actually did something about it creating Film Independent’s Project Involve a brave move—especially in 1993.

25 years in Hollywood, where the “normal tenure of an industry exec rivals the lifecycle of a Mayfly” in its brevity, is an accomplishment not to be ignored.  

Project Involve—Film Independent’s signature diversity mentorship program—has remained in place, steadfast in its mission: to support and enable the visions of independent artists and visual storytellers hailing from every facet of our multi-cultural community.

Here is an excerpt from a conversation with Angel Williams (Project Involve Fellow, Directing Track & Current Manager of Artist Development at Film Independent); director and producer Mel Jones (Project Involve’s Producing Track 2012) and Kady Kamakate (Project Involve Producing Track, 2017).

Q: Looking back when you first stepped into Project Involve, and now, what did you expect?

Angel Williams: Project Involve is Film Independent’s signature program dedicated to fostering the careers of talented filmmakers from communities traditionally underrepresented in the film industry. Project Involve runs annually for nine months and selects filmmakers from diverse backgrounds and filmmaking tracks. During the program, participants create short films, receive one-on-one film industry mentors, access to production-based master workshops taught by top film professionals, career development training, industry networking opportunities and more.  My good friend and frequent collaborator Mel Jones had gone through Project Involve – it was how I became aware of the program. Going in I already had an outline of sorts of how to maximize the opportunity. I knew that I needed to be thoughtful and intentional about my mentor ask and that the value of the program could extend long after the program ended, building relationships with talented artists that I could create a body of work with.

Mel Jones: Speaking from my experience. Mentorship is paramount. After all Hollywood is an apprenticeship business. And no matter how many degrees you have there is nothing like seeing someone in action and then modeling your approach from what you've learned. I am the producer I am today because of my Project Involve mentorship with Stephanie Allain who is now my producing partner. And as a developing storyteller, it meant giving me access to the world in ways I would not have been able to experience.

Kady Kamakate: I participated in previous shoots before as an AD and PM so I was familiar with the production side of things but not the curriculum. My expectations were for those to be fairly formal and routine, and I was really surprised to see how candid the guests are and how intimate the setting is. It really feels as if you're having a personal conversation, and they really are open to the industry and their filmmaking journey.

Q: Looking back what is the value of mentorship? What is mentorship for a developing storyteller?

AW: Mentorship is everything.  I don’t know a single artist who’s found success without mentorship and that’s key to sustaining a career.  In a lot of ways mentors are like a parent-child relationship – you inspire and nurture one another and gain a lot of wisdom in the process of growing alongside one another. Project Involve is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year and over the years we’ve had the participation of some amazing mentors including Effie T. Brown (Dear White People, Real Women Have Curves), Spike Jonze (Adaptation, Being John Malkovich), Kasi Lemmons (Talk to Me, Eve’s Bayou), Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, Memento), John Singleton (Four Brothers, Boyz n the Hood), Forest Whitaker (The Last King of Scotland, American Gun), Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Bradford Young (Arrival, Solo), Chayse Irvin (Lemonade), Rachel Morrison (Black Panther, Fruitvale Station), and Reed Morano (The Handmaid’s Tale).

MJ: Speaking from my experience. Mentorship is paramount. After all Hollywood is an apprenticeship business. And no matter how many degrees you have there is nothing like seeing someone in action and then modeling your approach from what you've learned. I am the producer I am today because of my Project Involve mentorship with Stephanie Allain who is now my producing partner. And as a developing storyteller, it meant giving me access to the world in ways I would not have been able to experience.

KK: I think mentorship comes in different ways. I haven't had a mentor most of my career but I don't think that's hindered me in any way. What's been important to me is peer-mentorship, those in your circle that brings you up.  It's as simple as bringing you on projects, to bumping you up in title/responsibility and generally taking a risk on you. That's been instrumental in my growth and something I always make a point to do on my own projects. I find it important for us to take chances with our own friends/peers, after all, if we don't make opportunities for our own community we're part of the problem.

Q: Why are diverse stories important? 

AW: Representation and diversity on screen are so important because we must see ourselves.  Cinema is such a powerful tool and when not used responsibly it can have a negative impact on our cultures.

MJ: Diverse stories are important because they allow for us to connect to one another in ways we wouldn't otherwise connect. I also believe stories have the ability to heal and to challenge peoples ways of thinking and belief systems so we should do that in as many ways as possible with as many voices as possible.

KK: If we want to live in an inclusive and progressive world, we must demand to hear stories from those that are underserved and underrepresented in our society. It's imperative.

Q: As storytellers in this program how much of the business side do you learn?

AW: After I completed Project Involve in 2014 on the directing track they asked me to come behind the curtain and run the program alongside Francisco Velasquez.  Project Involve focussing a lot on the business of filmmaking because in my opinion—so many emerging filmmakers aren’t even remotely prepared for that part of it.  You get to hear from studio executives, agents, managers, attorneys—but the most valuable conversations come from the filmmakers sharing their personal stories about the business.  That’s why mentorship is vital – a good mentor will school you on all the lessons they learned so that hopefully your experience can be different.

MJ: As producers of Project Involve you are tasked with producing a short. So that you can sharpen your ability to put a crew and a film together. But apart from that project involve has Master Classes with Industry Professionals that span from Composing to Producing.

KK: Project Involve does a great job of bringing in guests with a breath of experience and strong careers, which is really where you get to hear some gems. Also as a producer, by nature, we are more involved in the business side of things, but not necessarily the other tracks. So with Project Involve all the tracks (DP, DIRECTOR, EDITOR) get to see the process from scratch and are really intimately involved in a way that doesn't happen in the "real world". Everyone strategizes on fundraising or helps out on set in capacities that are new to them, it's a serious team effort and you walk away with a greater understanding of the process. 

To learn more, go to:

Zep: Sex, Comics, Childhood, & Transgression


While French comics have been enjoying attention in the US as far back the 1970s when Metal Hurlant was brought to over as Heavy Metal, there is still much in the world of "bandes dessinées" that has not crossed American eyes. Zep (real name Philippe Chappuis) is a Swiss born author whose work is wildly successful in France, thanks to his raunchy humor, cartoonish art, and a general disregard for authority. Yet he remains an unknown the United States. Zep’s career in comics dates back to the 1980s when he was a contributor to the anthology magazine Spirou. His long running comic, Titeuf, a bestseller in France, follows the escapades of a young boy with an oddly shaped head as he navigates life, school, adolescence, first loves, and parents. The series suffers from a particular conundrum of having humor too risque for children in the U.S., but it is also too kid-centric to appeal to older audiences here either.

Zep is known primarily for his comedic works such as Happy Parents, Happy Sex, and Titeuf, but his first English release in many years is the weighty A Story of Men from IDW. A Story of Men follows a could-have-been rock band, as they have a reunion with their former band leader who has enjoyed success while the rest of the ensemble drifted off into obscurity. While Titeuf is drawn in vivid primaries, A Story of Men opts for muted greys, occasionally mixed with hints of blue or magenta with paneling mostly contained to a 3x3 grid. While Titeuf is influenced by comedic French comic artists such as Gotlib, A Story of Men pulls from the tradition of new wave cinema and directors such as François Truffaut and the art drops cartoony visuals in favor of moody realism. While the visuals and the tone of A Story of Men is totally removed from that of Titeuf, it still embodies themes and motifs explored in Zep's more comedic works, namely adulthood, fatherhood, sex, relationships, and the nature of (and compromises with) rebellion.

I met with Zep at his hotel near Grand Central Terminal, where this interview was shot overlooking the grey and wet streets of Midtown. Zep shared his thoughts on the transgressive nature of childhood and how it’s reflected in Titeuf, and his depiction of sexuality within his work how it became a mission in life.

This interview was conducted by Renzo Adler and Brad Balfour.

September '17 Digital Week II

Blu-rays of the Week 
The Man with Two Brains
(Warner Archive)
Director Carl Reiner and star-writer Steve Martin collaborated for the third time on this lunatic 1983 comedy about a brain surgeon who falls in love with a brain in a jar (voiced by Sissy Spacek) and hopes to plant it into the head of his luscious but hateful wife.
Despite many stretches of silliness, it’s the most sustained and funny comedy the pair made together—followingThe Jerk and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid—thanks to Martin’s prodigious comic skills and the fearlessly funny performance by Kathleen Turner, who simultaneously sends up and revels in her own sexpot image. There’s a great Merv Griffin cameo as well. The hi-def transfer is good.
(Blue Underground)
Dick Maas’s cleverly titled slasher movie is set in Holland’s jewel of a city, whose famous canals provide excellent cover for a rampaging murderer. It’s too bad that, at 113 minutes, the movie is simply too long, sinking under its own weight of too much repetition and false starts.
Still, a decent cast does fine work, especially Monique van de Ven, known for her appearances in Paul Verhoeven’s early films. The hi-def transfer looks good and grainy; extras include a making-of featurette and interviews.
Endeavour—Complete 4th Season 
(PBS Masterpiece Mystery)
For this fourth go-round, Endeavour Morse teams with Fred Thursday for more murder investigations, as they prowl the Oxford area in the summer and fall of 1967 to find those responsible. Shaun Evans and Roger Allam again have fine chemistry as the detectives, and there’s an attractive supporting performance by Sara Vickers as Joan Thursday, Fred’s daughter and Endeavour’s unrequited love, returning for the final episode.
The four whodunits, set in lovely countryside locales, are well-paced, if not always convincingly argued. The hi-def transfers are excellent; extras are short featurettes and interviews.
Seemingly forgotten since its 1865 premiere, Franco Faccio’s operatic adaptation of Shakespeare’s play has been heavily if intelligently pared down by librettist Arrigo Boito (who also penned the libretti for Verdi’s Otello and Falstaff), but Faccio’s routine music only comes to life in the pageantry scenes and, surprisingly, the tragic climax.
This 2016 Bergenz Festival production is well-staged by Olivier Tambosi, superbly sung by Pavel Chernoch (Hamlet) and Julia Maria Dan (a sympathetic Ophelia), and beautifully performed by the Vienna Philharmonic and Prague Philharmonic Choir under conductor Paolo Carignani. Hi-def video and audio are first-rate.
(Cohen Film Collection)
In 1987, Director James Ivory and producer Israel Merchant followed up the previous year’s Oscar-winning breakthrough A Room with a View with an adaptation of a less acclaimed E.M. Forster novel about repressed homosexuality in early 20th century England. (The script was by Ivory and screenwriter Kit-Hesketh-Harvey.)
Sumptuously mounted and smartly acted by a cast led by James Wilby as Maurice and an unknown Hugh Grant as his lover, Maurice is nonetheless too slow-moving and long to have much dramatic impact—even if it was cut down from three hours, as Ivory himself states. The film’s restoration looks exemplary on Blu; a second disc of extras includes several Ivory interviews, deleted scenes and commentary.
DVDs of the Week
Citizen Jane—Battle for the City
(Sundance Selects)
In the 1950s and 60s, urban activist Jane Jacobs fearlessly took on New York City planning czar Robert Moses for, among other things, his feckless attempt to put a highway through lower Manhattan to connect the Holland Tunnel with the Lower East Side bridges, thereby decimating neighborhoods.
That fight is entertainingly recounted in Matt Tyrnauer’s documentary, crammed with archival interviews and statements from the adversaries themselves. (Marisa Tomei provides the voice of Jacobs.)
Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In—Complete First Season 
The groundbreaking comedy-variety series debuted in 1968, and—as the 14 first-season episodes show—was full of irreverent, topical, and silly humor from the get-go, with ringmasters Dan Rowan and Dick Martin introducing and interacting with a cast featuring Goldie Hawn, Joann Worley, Ruth Buzzi, Judy Carne, Arte Johnson, and Henry Gibson.
Among the guest stars willing to send themselves up were Johnny Carson, Tiny Tim and Sammy Davis; extras include the series’ pilot episode, highlights from the 25th anniversary reunion, bloopers, and an interview with creator and executive producer George Schlatter.

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