Director: Michael Grandage
Book: Jennifer Lee
Music/Lyrics: Kristen Anderson-Lopez & Robert Lopez
It’s hard to think of another film from the last decade that has made such a massive impact on popular culture as Disney’s 2013 animated juggernaut Frozen. Smashing box office records, introducing a string of catchy tunes and memorable characters, and generating an avalanche of merchandise, it was (and continues to be) something that you can’t escape. And now Anna, Elsa and company have skated over the pond from Broadway to bring the stage musical to London’s West End.
With such a high profile show from Disney, one expects magic and spectacle, and these are delivered in copious amounts. However what is perhaps most surprising about Frozen is how much of an intimate and traditional piece of musical theatre it is: the principle cast is small, and the story is focussed on one central relationship but with opportunities for fun peripheral character-driven numbers. And it’s also very funny, thanks to Jennifer Lee’s witty script, Michael Grandage’s smart direction and Rob Ashford’s often cheeky choreography.
The story is exactly that of the movie with a few tweaks to remove the large action sequences. All of the songs from the film are intact with only Fixer Upper being re-orchestrated to fit the change of the characters who sing it from cartoonish trolls to slightly less fantastical ‘hidden folk’. The additional songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez (augmenting their original movie score) fit into the narrative extremely well and in most cases flesh out characters and relationships which were perhaps a little underserved in the film, particularly that of Elsa whose motivations and turmoil are more explicitly presented here. And refreshingly these additions in no way bloat the show’s running time which clocks in at a perfect 2 hours and 15 minutes.
Samantha Barks as Elsa gives an excellent performance to imbue humanity and spirit to a character who is quite literally cold and isolated. This role could easily be unsympathetic, but Barks has a proven track record of wrenching hearts with her Eponine in the film version of Les Miserables, and offers an equally compelling performance as the conflicted Snow Queen. Of course, everyone knows the standout number of Frozen is Let It Go, and Barks really pulls out all of the stops to deliver this anthem to independence, helped by some truly gob-smacking special effects that simulate her ice powers with the use of advanced projection technology.
Proving to be an equal to Barks’ Elsa is Stephanie McKeon as her sister Anna. Carrying most of the show, McKeon has a lovable and perky stage presence that is in wonderful contrast to the stoic Elsa. McKeon has superb comic abilities and manages to get some of the biggest laughs of the show (not easy when competing with a puppet snowman!) but is also able to deliver sincerity when it’s required in the second act. Her fun duet with Oliver Ormson’s Hans Love is an Open Door is a perfect blend of song, direction and choreography delivering musical theatre gold with an almost bare stage and not a special effect in sight.
Obioma Ugoala’s Kristoff plays well with McKeon’s Anna and the pair has real chemistry, and Craig Gallivan is enchanting as snowman Olaf using puppetry similar to that used for Timon in The Lion King. His In Summer number is creatively presented, remaining a strong solo where other shows may have been tempted to make it a lavish production number. Instead a big showstopper comes in an unlikely but genuinely hilarious form: storekeeper Oaken (Jak Skelly) and his nude family extolling the virtues of Hygge. However the real scene stealer is reindeer Sven (Ashley Birchall / Mikayla Jade) who is beautifully designed and performed. His usefulness to the plot is completely negated with the removal of the action sequences, but his presence is nevertheless very valuable.
Christopher Oram’s sets brilliantly convey the cavernous stately palace, the harsh arctic-like snows capes (including an amazing bridge) and Elsa’s breath-taking ice castle. The lighting design, special effects and projections add an additional layer of opulence to create an impressive and beautiful show that deserves to be seen in all its glory.
Magical and memorable, if you can get hold of a ticket for Frozen, just follow one piece of advice: don’t … let it go.