North Woods Arendelle: With Disney’s blessing, Ely stages ‘Frozen the Musical’

Frozen in Ely02
Sixth grade student Moxie Lindsay puts on a wig to play Young Elsa before a dress rehearsal at Ely Memorial High School on Jan. 19.
Erica Dischino for MPR News

On the coldest week of the year so far, Ely has transformed into the fictional city of Arendelle — the home of Elsa, Anna, Olaf and Kristoff and the rest of the characters in Disney’s beloved musical, Frozen. 

It’s a big night for this community on the edge of the Boundary Waters. It’s the only town in the state to have won a national competition to perform the production. 

Frozen in Ely07
Tenth grade student Alison Poppler, left, who plays Olaf, shares a moment with sixth grade student and ensemble member Lucy Luthens before a dress rehearsal at Ely Memorial High School.
Erica Dischino for MPR News

“OK, can I just say something crazy?” said the actor playing Anna as they prepare for opening night at the Ely High School auditorium.

“I love crazy!” replied her love interest Hans.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

The chorus of middle and high school students joined in as Anna sang “All my life it’s been a series of doors in my face — And then suddenly I bump into you…”

This show has been years in the making. In the summer of 2022, music director Michael Rouse entered a national contest on a whim to win the rights to perform it.

Frozen in Ely04
The cast of Disney's Frozen practices before a dress rehearsal at Ely Memorial High School.
Erica Dischino for MPR News

Only one community in each state could win and it was a pretty competitive process with a series of essay questions. Rouse didn’t think Ely, which is a small town, would stand a chance against larger communities.

But Rouse says Ely had one card up its sleeve.

“So one of the very first questions was, ‘Why is your school one of the best schools to be able to do this?’” he said. “And my quick, kind of smart aleck answer actually was ‘because we’re frozen six months out of the year.’”

Frozen in Ely09
Director Michael Rouse leads a practice performance of "Love Is An Open Door" before a dress rehearsal of Disney's Frozen.
Erica Dischino for MPR News

Fast forward to last summer, and Rouse got the email telling him Ely High School has been chosen for “Frozen.” The school got the rights to do three performances. That’s a big deal when licensing musicals can cost schools thousands of dollars. 

Rouse says the entire community has been involved.

The local paper renamed itself to the Arendelle Echo, bars and restaurants have created special drinks and meals with Frozen themes. Rouse says the mayor even renamed the town Arendelle for the weekend. 

“Beyond that we have a really incredibly generous community that has helped us with some of the expenses that are involved in this that we don't normally in have a show here. It has truly been a community effort.”

Senior Ruby Milton, is playing Elsa in the show — the Queen of Arendelle who was born with the secret power of turning things to ice. 

“This is a huge way to end my senior year,” she said with a laugh. “I’m gonna go to college for musical theater too. So this is really good for my resume.”

Frozen in Ely05
Ruby Milton (center in the black tee shirt) plays Elsa in the Ely Memorial High School production of "Disney’s Frozen: A Broadway Musical."
Erica Dischino for MPR News

Before they broke for lunch, the cast gathered on stage to practice a scene from the finale of the play. Elsa has revealed her secret power to Arendelle — and they still love her anyway. 

“Let it go, let it go, and we’ll rise like the break of dawn ...” the chorus sang.

And just like that, a sprinkling of snow — the fake stuff — starts falling from the auditorium’s ceiling. 

Frozen in Ely06
Fake snow is released during the finale of Ely Memorial High School's dress rehearsal of Disney's Frozen.
Erica Dischino for MPR News
This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment’s Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.