Is there any better stage musical to watch during June in Arizona than “Disney Frozen Jr.” — all that snow, all that ice, all that cold!
But factor in that production this Saturday, June 22, is being presented by Dance Studio 111 of Ahwatukee — well-known for their stage productions but especially the annual Holiday extravaganza “The Nutcracker” — and you’ve got even more reasons to attend.
Tickets for the two shows — at noon and 5 p.m. — are on sale now. The online purchase also allows you to select your favorite seat or seats in the Mountain Pointe High Arts Theater, 4201 E Knox Road.
According to producer Kimberly Lewis, Dance Studio 111 and Studio 111 Theater Company owner, the “Disney Frozen Jr.” production not only is based on the 2018 Broadway musical but is the only one licensed to be performed in Arizona.
“I was on a plane to Baltimore in January to go see my son Alex. I checked my email right before take-off and I received an email from MTI (Music Theatre International) that the rights had come available that day for ‘Frozen Jr.’ I was able to get a call off to MTI right before take-off, and Studio 111 Theater Company was the first in Arizona to purchase the rights to this play when they became available,” she said.
The musical follows the plot of the Oscar-winning animated movie released in 2013. A sequel, “Frozen 2” is set for release this November.
Both are based on the fairy tale ‘The Snow Queen’ by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1844.
There are 42 cast members ranging in age from 4 to 18, all selected after the crowded auditions in March.
Unlike Andersen’s fairy tale that had the two main female characters as friends, the animated film and the musical follow the lives and travails of sisters, Princesses Anna and Elsa in the kingdom of Arendelle.
“It’s a story of love and acceptance between the sisters,” said Lewis. “The musical expands on their emotional relationship as they face danger and discover both their hidden potential and the powerful bond of sisterhood.
“There’s plenty of magic, adventure and humor — enough to thaw the coldest heart. The kids have worked so hard, and it’s a wonderful performance for the whole family to enjoy!”
Playing the role of Princess Elsa, who becomes queen, is Marlee Billeter, 13, appearing in her fifth summer musical with the Studio 111 Theater Company. She was Teen Fiona in last year’s “Shrek the Musical Jr.”
The 5’8” Altadena Middle School eighth-grader has been training as a singer at RLS Music, a part of Dance Studio/Theater 111, since she was 6.
“Rather than a dancer, she’s actually a soccer player and she’s played since she was 5,” said her mother Brandye Billeter. “While she’s sad to miss a big tournament in California in order to rehearse for the show, she looks forward to the Studio 111 Theater Company shows all year, and worked very hard for her role.”
The teen’s enthusiasm is palpable.
“Before auditions, I knew I really wanted a lead role, so I worked very hard. I was nervous because there were older girls trying for the same parts. When I found out I was Elsa, I was freaking out! I was so excited, very happy and proud of myself,” the teen enthused, explaining:
“I’ve always loved this movie. I was seven when it came out and I got a poster, the music, stuffed dolls and the movie. I’ve always loved how strong Elsa is, and the powers she has. I can’t wait.”
Sara Watson, cast in the role of Princess Anna, is an experienced thespian both at Studio 111, where she appeared in the “Wizard of Oz” and “Beauty and the Beast,” and at Xavier College Preparatory, which she’s been in every school production since her freshman year.
A talented singer, the 17-year-old also started voice lessons at age 6 at RLS Music, and has taken numerous acting classes over the years.
Preparations for the musical started months ago as she repeatedly reviewed the movie, and film of the Broadway musical.
“I watch them and compare what I’m doing with what’s been done. It takes a lot of time preparing,” said Watson, understating her pre-senior year schedule which included an intensive nine-day American Government summer course at Xavier weeks before the play.
“I like that Princess Anne is very lively and funny, and the part gives me a lot of room to develop her character. I can be both comical and serious,” she said.
Though she’s had a solid base in theater and singing, Watson has her sights set on becoming an obstetrician.
“I’ll be pre-med, but I might minor in theater or vocal performance as I want to keep it in my life,” she said.
Watson has two siblings also involved in “Frozen Jr.” Her brother Steven, a junior at Brophy College Preparatory, is part of the crew backstage, and her sister Katie, an Altadena eighth-grader, plays Celeste of Arendelle.
Having their three children involved in the production makes for a busy time for parents Alisha and Bill Watson, an Ahwatukee Realtor for 26 years.
“It’s much easier to balance it all now that the kids drive,” laughed Alisha. “Now we plan out our week, figure out who needs what and when, and decide how it will all work. We have to try to be organized and stay on top of the schedule.”
She says it’s still worth it.
“We’ve loved having our children involved in theater, both onstage and behind the scenes. We do it because it’s their passion and really gives them a chance to shine. We also get the fun of watching the shows! And we love having them involved in their community,” she said.
Mario Clayton, 17, who played Donkey in last year’s Shrek, has the role of Prince Hans of the Southern Isles, a character he relishes.
“What I like best about the role is that I’m able to essentially play two characters in one. As you know in the movie “Frozen,” Hans is a two-sided character, but if you didn’t know that, just wait until what we have coming for you,” said the recent NFL YET College Prep Academy chuckled.
Desert Vista High School junior Makay Blackburn, 15, landed the role of Kristoff, the ice harvester who befriends Princess Anna.
It’s Makay’s first Arizona performance since moving to Ahwatukee last fall from Washington State, where he was active in competitive choir, often singing as a soloist. He also undertook supporting roles in several musicals there.
Olaf, the cheerful snowman who Elsa unknowingly brought to life, is played by Emma Krassett, 13.
This is the fifth year Studio 111 Theater Company has produced a summer musical for the community.
All were directed by Jenefer Miller, an award-winning choreographer and nationally-acclaimed tap dancer who teaches tap as an adjunct professor at ASU.
Rachal Bautista is musical director, and Brandi Petersen is the production’s costumes designer.
The $15 assigned-seating tickets are available at DanceStudio111.com.
As in other productions, cast members mingle with the audience afterwards, signing autographs and posing for photos with fans.