When new musicals come to Broadway these days, they’re often lucky if they’re budgeted for ten musicians in the orchestra pit. Then there’s Disney, which, when bringing the wildly successful 2013 animated film Frozen to the St. James Theatre, committed to shepherding a full, symphonic, and cinematic sound to the orchestra pit as well.
Dave Metzger—orchestrator of Frozen on both stage and screen—has realized that vision by orchestrating Robert Lopez and Kristin Anderson-Lopez’s Grammy- and Oscar-winning score for an ensemble of 21 players, a number usually reserved for prestige revivals of classic musicals. With that number of musicians at his disposal, Metzger is able to include such specialty instruments as an octave mandolin and a Finnish, zither-like instrument called a kantele—but he’s also able to provide vital resonance and bass support underneath them.
“Having a healthy number of players gives me options—the cards to play,” Metzger says. “Otherwise, you have to just go with what’s going to be able to play melodies, and those instruments end up getting exposed. The sound gets thin if you don’t have the lower resonances to support them.”
Metzger has put together an ensemble with low resonance in spades, including two French horns, a fairly unusual extravagance for modern musical theatre (a major exception being Disney’s The Lion King, not inconsequentially co-orchestrated by Metzger along with Robert Elhai and Bruce Fowler), and a full brass ensemble that allows him to craft the musical landscape of Frozen’s quasi-Nordic world. This was an important goal for Metzger, who views orchestrating as an extension of storytelling.
“Before I start any orchestration, I have to read through the lyric multiple times,” he says. “If the orchestrations don’t help tell the story, what’s the point?”
Metzger really got to work in that realm orchestrating the 12 songs written expressly for Broadway, many of which delve more deeply into the characters’ emotional journey.
“My biggest challenge with the new material was capturing what was going on with the characters—like Anna’s desperation and sadness in ‘True Love’—while simultaneously making them feel like an organic part of the world that had already been established with the songs from the film.”
All of this—the music and lyrics, the instruments, the storytelling—come together to help make Frozen on Broadway a visceral experience, and that’s exactly what Metzger was aiming for.
"I hope that [the music] envelops people and draws them into this beautiful rich sound that can have emotional resonance,” he says. “And I hope they feel the love. There’s a lot of love in this show. It’s not the traditional love that we’ve come to know and expect from shows and movies, but it’s this love between sisters that transforms into a picture of making the world a better place.”