The rain never bothered us anyway: Ketchikan becomes Arendelle for Alaska debut of ‘Frozen’

a musical cast
The cast and crew of the musical “Frozen” with Mayor Dave Kiffer in Ketchikan, temporarily renamed Arendelle in its honor. (Jack Darrell/KRBD)

The drama students of Ketchikan High School are the only theater troupe in Alaska licensed to perform the official Broadway musical “Frozen.” The Kayhi Drama Kings were chosen by Disney in a national competition as one of 55 schools in the country given the rights to perform the play which has never before been seen off-Broadway.

In honor of the play’s Alaska debut last week, Ketchikan City Mayor Dave Kiffer announced that until Sunday, Ketchikan has been renamed Arendelle.

A large crowd gathered Nov. 24 on Mission Street under the iconic “Welcome to Ketchikan” sign – bearing a bright blue “Welcome to Arendelle” banner – as Kiffer, flanked by the Kayhi Drama Kings, read a proclamation celebrating the play.

“And whereas the Kayhi Drama Kings’ production of ‘Frozen’ will honor the musical’s message of love and acceptance, therefore, I, Dave Kiffer, Mayor of the City of Ketchikan, hereby declare that from November 24th to December 3rd, 2023, Ketchikan will be known as Arendelle,” Kiffer read. “And the city motto will be ‘The rain never bothered us anyway!’”

An all-ages crowd – kids on their parents’ shoulders, cheering teenagers, elderly photo takers – cheered the announcement. 

The mayor’s proclamation was just the beginning. It kicked off a series of celebrations before the upcoming Friday night premiere. The excitement was palpable. 

“I’m excited for to see how this play turns out,” said 10-year-old Aurora Hoppe. She was dressed as her favorite character, wearing a light blue princess dress. “It’s going to be so magical. Almost every seat in the whole auditorium is going to be filled, and I feel like it’s just a big, big, most popular show ever that almost everybody wants to see.”

Aurora has seen the movie “Frozen” too many times to count.

Her sister, Anaiya Hoppe, was dressed the same way.  According to her, she helped with costume design.

“We like ‘Frozen’ because we’re sisters and we share a room, and we like ‘Frozen’ because it’s sisters and we’re sisters,” said the almost 9-year-old.

Aurora, Aniaya and the other newly minted citizens of Arendelle headed across town to Parnassus Books to meet with the cast and crew.

The mastermind behind the new play is Tommy Varela-Kossack, Kayhi’s theater teacher and the production’s director. He said the theme of the national competition was “Love is an open door,” and it wasn’t hard for him to show how his drama club embodied that. 

“Of course, living in Southeast Alaska, we were like, ‘Oh, well, we’re probably the closest of any 50 states to like what actually inspired the world of ‘Frozen,’” he said.

Varela-Kossack also said it wasn’t hard for them to put their unique spin on it.

“Our set is inspired by Southeast and you know, Elsa has ice – everything being inspired by glaciers,” he said. “And the colors and story that we try to use for our show is all inspired by the nature and the beauty of the natural world of Southeast Alaska.”  

Behind him, a toddler tore through the bookshelves to hug Olaf the snowman.

a bookstore
“Frozen” cast members and a stuffed version of the snowman Olaf pay a visit to Parnassus Books in Arendelle. (Jack Darrell/KRBD)

In the play, Anna and Elsa are princesses of Arendelle. Elsa has ice powers and Anna doesn’t. It creates a rift between them and on her coronation day, Elsa accidentally sends the entire kingdom into an eternal winter and then goes into exile. The rest of the play explores the sisters’ journey to resolve their conflict. 

As the premiere fast approached, the musical’s stars and choreographers invite attendees to the dance studio to learn the dances from the musical. 

Chayslyn Spencer plays Elsa. She’s had to rehearse these dances many times. 

“It’s been a lot of pressure, but it’s also been a lot of fun, and probably the best learning experience in theater that I’ve ever gotten. It feels like an honor because this is such a huge thing for everyone and Ketchikan and Alaska,” Spencer said. It’s not a role that she takes lightly.

On opening night, a red carpet was rolled outside the Ketchikan High School auditorium for what was billed as a “pre-coronation block party.”

Hannon Alkhabi, a senior at Ketchikan High School, plays Anna – sister of Elsa, heir to the throne of Arendelle, and one of the show’s leads. In her words, she’s been in “like a bajillion” plays. But none like this.

“This is the biggest show I have ever done. And yeah, I’m like, a lead! So it’s really cool!” Alkhabi gushed as she stood with other cast members at the front of the auditorium before curtain. “It’s honestly so fulfilling, like, the dynamic of this, like, we have ages from seven to 18. And we’re just like all having a blast. It’s crazy.”

Fellow cast member Oliver Wutzke agreed.

“I think this cast is super great. Out of all the casts I’ve been in, I feel like this one has the most positivity,” said the junior who plays Oaken, the Norwegian shopkeeper. “I really like Oaken. I haven’t taken on a “Norveegian” accent. So that’s fun to do.”

A passerby shouted, “Go ‘Frozen!'”

The “Frozen” curtain closed on its Alaska opening night to a standing ovation.

Fans will have more opportunities this weekend to see the Kayhi Drama Kings performance and learn for themselves why “love is an open door.”

a musical cast
“Frozen” director Tommy Varela-Kossack (left), Anna actress Hannon Alkhabi and Arendelle Mayor Dave Kiffer. (Jack Darrell/KRBD)
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