Within minutes of the opening act of Disney California Adventure park’s new “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion,” audiences realize there’s another important headliner in this musical theater production – a headliner so integral to the telling of this adaptation that its name shares the production’s title: Live at the Hyperion.
Opened in 2001 as part of the new Disney California Adventure theme park in Anaheim, Calif., the grand Hyperion Theater is fully equipped to host major theatrical presentations. With the opening of the new “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion” show, Disney’s creative team is utilizing the theater’s full creative capabilities. New technology combines with classic theatrics to immerse audiences in a story that feels both fantastic and familiar.
“This production is very emotional,” explains Dana Harrel, creative portfolio executive with Walt Disney Imagineering Creative Entertainment. “We take our audiences to a place that we’ve never gone before, so the environment for this journey becomes vitally important to the telling the story.”
The scale of the nearly 2,000-seat Hyperion Theater means the theatrical effects in this production play a very large role. For example, it took approximately 45,000 square feet of custom-dyed fabric to create the “Aurora” curtain that envelops the interior of the theater, almost completely surrounding the audience and providing a surface for large format projection and lighting effects.
An enormous turntable was installed on the stage to allow an elegant movement of set pieces from scene to scene and to accommodate Elsa’s breathtaking and intricate staircase of ice, which juts out over the audience. To adapt the thrilling wolf chase from the film, Kristoff’s sleigh was built upon a motion base platform similar to a flight simulator, providing an incredible kinetic energy to the scene for performers and audience alike.
Another impressive enhancement to the theater involves the scene in which Elsa’s emotions generate a sudden explosion of ice spikes from the stage. Each of the realistic shards of ice is independently controlled and the natural look of the effect is remarkable.
“We are using theatrical technology that simply wasn’t available when the theater opened in 2001, and some of it wasn’t even around five years ago,” explains the show’s producer Jennifer Magill. “This is especially true of the large amount of video projections.”
Magill notes that the show has more than 20 video “canvases” upon which eight ultra-high- definition projectors are used. A precision mapping technology turns 8,000 square feet of scenic surfaces into living backgrounds, transporting the audience into the worlds of Arendelle, pine forests and sparkling ice castles. The custom, curved 2,200-square-foot onstage video screen itself weighs 44,000 pounds and required special stage reinforcing to accommodate its installation.
Many of the scenic elements are wirelessly controlled. In fact, two pieces representing mounds of snow actually move about the stage autonomously, using laser scanners and reflectors as their guide.
“Of course, it snows frequently in the story, so our stage and house are equipped for theatrical changes in the weather,” says Magill. “For example, we’re using eight snow machines to create a wintry look for some sequences.”
All of the technology used at the Hyperion is in the service of the story, Magill emphasizes.
Since opening, the Hyperion Theater has been home to several of the park’s major entertainment productions. Most notably, the Hyperion Theater recently completed its 13-year run of “Disney’s Aladdin – A Musical Spectacular.”
“We are quite fortunate to have a theater like the Hyperion,” says David Duffy, executive producer for “Frozen – Live at the Hyperion” and director of Creative Entertainment for the Disneyland Resort. “Guests in our parks are already immersed in a vast amount of storytelling, so there is a natural expectation to be magically taken away from reality and dropped – quite believably – into the very center of a compelling story. A theater like the Hyperion allows us to deliver and exceed that expectation.”
“Frozen – Live at the Hyperion” is based on the Walt Disney Animation Studios’ film “Frozen,” which is the No. 1 animated feature of all time and among the most critically acclaimed animated films. It is the winner of two Academy Awards® (2014), for Best Animated Feature and Best Original Song.