By Melissa Arnold
It might seem hard to believe, but it’s only been eight years since Disney’s Frozen was released, captivating all ages and making Elsa and Anna household names. Children of previous generations might have idolized Belle or Cinderella, but now it’s all about the icy queen and her bighearted sister. The majority of girls under 20 would likely admit to belting out the now iconic “Let It Go” a time or two.
Among those Frozen superfans are Leah Kelly and Lorelai Mucciolo, who star as Elsa and Anna in the Smithtown Performing Art Center’s production of the stage adaptation for kids, Frozen Jr.
The pair have an effortless chemistry onstage, and when you get to know them it’s easy to see why. Behind the scenes, they’ve been friends for years, and both call Smithtown Performing Arts Center (SPAC) their second home.
Some of Lorelai’s (Anna) earliest memories are of toddling around the theater — her parents were involved there before she was even born. She admits she was “stubborn” when her family suggested she give performing a try, despite growing up at the foot of the stage.
“I actually had terrible stage fright. I was really nervous to try acting, but once I got up there I realized it was the best thing ever. It just felt right,” said Lorelai, a 15-year-old sophomore at East Islip High School.
Leah Kelly, who plays Elsa, also needed a little coaxing to make her acting debut.
“I started off with dance when I was 3 years old, but I was always singing,” said Leah, a 17-year-old senior at Smithtown West High School. “One day, my mom found me singing along to the movie Tangled while I played with my Barbies, and she asked if I wanted to take a singing class. I was and am a little on the shy side, so I was reluctant, but she suggested I go with a friend.”
It was through those singing classes at SPAC that Leah met her current voice teacher, future directors and a host of new friends, including Lorelai. The two girls have known each other for almost 10 years now, often sharing the stage. But this is the first time they’ve played sisters.
Frozen Jr. director Courtney Braun has watched Leah and Lorelai blossom into young women with confidence and grace. Braun, who is pursuing a graduate degree in social work from Stony Brook University, found her own voice on the SPAC stage as a girl.
“I first became a part of the theater’s ‘Youth Experiencing Arts’ program when I was six years old. We were doing Grease, and I showed up in a pink poodle skirt and a high ponytail, ready to go,” she recalled. “I’ve met so many wonderful people here, including my best friend.”
Braun was in elementary school when she met Lorelai for the first time — she was an infant then. Years later, Braun met Leah during a production of The Wizard of Oz.
“I’ve always been amazed by them. They are so kind — truly each other’s biggest supporters, and they’re wonderful role models for others,” Braun said of the girls.
This production of Frozen Jr. was originally planned for two years ago, long before COVID-19 shuttered theaters. Leah and Lorelai eagerly awaited their chance to audition, and when the time finally came, Braun felt that the girls were natural fits for Elsa and Anna.
“Leah is a force to be reckoned with. For Elsa, I was looking for a strong personality that was also able to show the occasional insecurity when it’s called for, and Leah accomplishes that so well,” Braun explained. “And Lorelai has all of the sweet, bubbly, unique personality quirks that make us love the character Anna — she can be a little quiet when you meet her, but as soon as she takes the stage, it’s game on. She has such deep insights.”
For the girls, it’s a welcome relief to be back onstage, especially after enduring canceled shows and remote learning.
“Being part of a cast is very unifying, and you get to connect with an audience emotionally, which is a great feeling,” said Leah who is enjoying her time in Frozen Jr.
“I love the relationship that’s mended between Anna and Elsa, despite their differences. They learn to work through things together instead of on their own,” she said. “Coming out of the pandemic, I feel like we can all relate to feeling isolated and alone.”
Lorelai said that even with outdoor theater opportunities, there’s no replacement for being at SPAC.
“I love being able to look out into the audience and see the joy on people’s faces. A lot of people sing along and kids come dressed in costume,” she said. “There’s something about getting to go onstage and be somebody else for a while that I really enjoy — it’s like professional make believe, and for lack of a better word, it’s magical.”
Frozen Jr. is running now through Jan. 17, 2022 at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center, 2 East Main Street, Smithtown. Tickets are $25. For showtimes, ticket purchases and information, visit www.smithtownpac.org or call 631-724-3700.