This Connecticut high school is among the first in the U.S. to put on Disney's 'Frozen' musical
Conard High School in West Hartford has wrapped up six sold-out shows of the Connecticut premiere of Disney’s FROZEN: the Broadway Musical. The school was chosen in a nationwide competition that granted one high school in every U.S. state and territory the rights to produce the musical.
Hunter Parker, director and co-producer of Conard’s production, said she and her colleagues were brainstorming family-friendly ideas for their 2023 spring musical production when she saw an email about the United States of Frozen contest run by Disney, Music Theatre International, and the Educational Theatre Association.
The school applied, and was notified in August 2022 that Conard had won the rights.
The application was filled with questions about the school’s demographics, diversity, photos of past productions, and questions about the director’s vision for the show.
But Disney also asked applicants how they would utilize the “Love Is An Open Door” theme, in hopes that contest winners would use the show to engage with their local communities.
For Conard, that engagement meant having a free performance for senior citizens, including nearly 40 students across six nights from West Hartford Public Elementary Schools to dance during Olaf’s song “In Summer,” and offering free tickets to students with demonstrated financial need and their families, as well as foster kids in Connecticut.
“I actually became a foster parent this year,” Parker said. “So one of the things that's close to my heart is foster kids in their families. And we were able to work with DCF [the state Department of Children and Families] out of the Manchester office and create an opportunity for foster kids and their families to come at no charge to some of our shows as well.”
Members of the West Hartford community opened themselves up to Conard to make the musical a success, including a former Conard parent designing and building the puppets for the Olaf and Sven costumes.
Thanks to a personal connection to a Conard teacher, the cast even had the opportunity to connect via Zoom call with the couple that co-wrote the music and lyrics for Frozen – Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (EGOT) award-winning Robert Lopez, and Oscar and Grammy award-winning Kristen Anderson Lopez.
The couple shared some behind-the-scenes information about their songwriting process and the vision for Frozen in the hour-long Zoom call with the Conard cast and crew, said Marisa Barry, co-producer of Conard’s production.
“It was a really great experience and the students were pretty starstruck. One of our students, their exact quote was, ‘What do you even ask an EGOT?’” Barry said.
Though every scene and musical number drew applause from the audience, highlights of the show included Conard senior Marlena Pegolo’s charming portrayal of Anna, her performances of “Love Is An Open Door” alongside Hans (played by Benjamin Dollar) and “What Do You Know About Love” with Kristoff (played by James Thibault). Set pieces such as a large mountain that was built, designed, and painted by the crew and the use of dry ice for fog and special effects, were also highlights along with Conard senior Kayla Resnisky’s portrayal of Elsa and a performance of “Let It Go,” which included Elsa’s transformational costume change.
At the end of the show, the young actors were met with a standing ovation from the audience.
Barry hopes the audience can take away the message of self-acceptance and “truly letting it go – other people's expectations and what ideas that people have for you. And I think just being authentic and your true self and having the same thought process for others in your life, too.”
Similarly, Parker hopes both those in the audience and her students leave this experience impacted by the important lessons that are taught in Frozen.
“I hope the audience takes away the fact of acceptance and love and freeing ourselves from our past as they move forward in their daily lives, and then they can have a little bit more joy and a little bit more freedom,” Parker said. “Especially for my students. They carry around so much. And it's so hard to be a teenager now. People underestimate how difficult it is and I just hope they can learn to accept themselves and who they are and those around them in a way that would really just create more love in the world.”