Let the glass ceiling go: ‘Frozen the Musical’ announces new Anna
Representation in the entertainment industry—especially the performing arts—is just as important as representation in other fields like STEM and business. If you don’t see yourself on stage, then it’s hard to visualize the possibility that you can and do have a place underneath the spotlight. However, in recent years there has been an increase in theatrical productions and movies employing color-blind casting.
Color-blind casting, or non-traditional casting, is the practice of casting a role regardless of color, sex or gender. These things don’t define the talent a person has; the role is given to a person based on their talent, not based on what they look like. One of the biggest instances of this is Lin Manuel-Miranda’s “Hamilton.” Miranda cast individuals based solely on their abilities to play America’s founding fathers to convey a different perspective of U.S. history. He didn’t cast white men to play stories we already know and can read in our history books; he chose actors and actresses who had the ability to play the part regardless of what they look like.
Color-blind casting is a refreshing revamp of a historically white industry that makes it into a more inclusive space. It gives performance art a certain accessibility that isn’t otherwise available to people who haven’t typically seen themselves portrayed positively. Positive representation like this creates a pathway for people that’s lit by those paving the way. But sometimes, this sees backlash.
When J.K. Rowling decided to write “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child”—something I personally believe should not have been done—it was turned into a play. Hermione was played by Noma Dumezweni, a Black woman in the West End production and then in the Broadway run when it opened in 2018. The moniker of “frizzy hair” was immediately prescribed to whiteness and the iconic casting of Emma Watson in the “Harry Potter” movies did not assuage the bigotry of close-minded individuals with no imagination. Recently, Disney announced that half of duo Chloe x Halle, Halle Bailey, would play the role of Ariel in the live-action adaption of “The Little Mermaid.” People were outraged by the fact that a traditionally white character would be played by a Black woman, but that pushback was met with more than enough people expressing their amazement, gratitude and well-wishes for the movie. By taking a childhood character loved by many and using color-blind casting, Hollywood has taken a step in the right direction. It shows Black and brown kids that they can be more than the comic relief, a side character to the white best friend or the villain in someone else’s fairy tale. That is why the newest color-blind casting decision is so important.
Recently, it was announced that there would be a new sister-pair for the Broadway production “Frozen the Musical.” A new Anna and Elsa are set to take the St. James Theatre stage after Cassie Levy and Patti Murin, Elsa and Anna respectively, leave the show after having starred in the show since 2017. McKenzie Kurtz will take over for Levy as Elsa and Ciara Renée will take over for Murin as Anna. What this means is, Anna is going to be played by a Black woman; a modern Disney princess is going to be portrayed by a Black woman on Broadway. This is monumental.
Little girls with performing arts/musical theatre dreams are going to see that they can be cast in any role they dream of. They’re not bound and can’t be bound by the fact that Anna and Elsa are cinematically a pair of white sisters in a white world, and that argument can no longer be made. Just because the movie did it one way doesn’t mean that it can’t be done in another. Casting Renée in this role indicates that there is a place for Black and brown girls in the world of performing arts and they can thrive wherever they are, breaking down the barriers that have historically kept them out of whatever arena they want to enter. Just because historically the stage was not set for a group of people to thrive does not mean that it can’t be reset. Broadway’s glass ceiling is breaking and will continue to break. The entertainment industry’s glass ceiling is shattering and that’s okay; it’s a good thing. People just have to get used to it.