Is there a child, or indeed a parent, across the land who doesn’t recognise the unmistakable opening bars of ‘Let It Go’, from Disney’s Frozen? It would be hard to believe, and perhaps that’s why it came as such a shock that Broadway’s Frozen The Musical was the first to permanently close as a result of the pandemic. Here in London, the production, originally slated for last year, thankfully has not been put on ice, and has opened at the beautifully refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane.
Disney’s 53rd animated film, loosely based on The Snow Queen, is perfect for a stage adaptation. In creating the screenplay, Jennifer Lee essentially crafted an animated musical, complete with Broadway royalty leading the cast.
Michael Grandage, who directed the original Broadway version, returns to direct in the West End. The success of this production is largely down to Grandage’s ability to take a modern story written for children and give it the gravitas of an old classic, and still keep it feeling fresh.
The movie is replicated on stage with only minor alterations, Frozen The Musical was criticised from some quarters on Broadway for sticking so closely to the original version, but the adage of ‘if it ‘aint broke, don’t fix it’ couldn’t be more true; when you’re dealing with the fifth highest grossing film of all time, audiences are coming in with certain expectations.
And those expectations are duly met; all those characters that have permeated our consciousness come to life on the Drury Lane stage, even Olaf and Sven! When Elsa accidentally and unwittingly plunges Arendelle into an eternal winter on Coronation Day – with powers she has kept hidden from everyone – she flees. It falls to younger sister Anna to trek through a snowstorm with the aid of Kristoff and Sven, to find Elsa and undo the unfortunate spell.
Frozen is pure Disney, with all the magic you would expect, and while it is a love story, it’s the fact that it is the love between two sisters that makes this production so special. That also means two female lead roles – there is pure joy in the auditorium as we watch them share the final bow – and while Elsa gets the big, impressive numbers, it is Anna who is the real heroine of the story.
Stephanie McKeon gives a dazzling performance as the younger sister who almost sacrifices it all for Elsa; boundless energy and a deep understanding of the character makes McKeon’s Anna a masterclass in subverting the typical ‘Disney Princess’ persona.
Samantha Barks astounds the audience with every appearance, and it’s not just because of the incredible vocals. Barks makes sure we feel the pain and isolation in parallel with the character, and by the time ‘Let It Go’ comes around, the audience are ready to see Elsa free herself from self-imposed shackles.
That sequence, which comes as the act one finale, is quite the sight to behold. Describing it in words is near impossible, as Jeremy Chernick’s special effects are unlike anything London has seen before, and the beauty of it all is simply mesmerising.
While McKeon and Barks lead the cast, Obioma Ugoala as Kristoff gives an equally strong performance, interacting well with Sven; an incredible piece of puppetry operated by Ashley Birchall and Mikayla Jade. Puppetry also allows Olaf to come to life, and Craig Gallivan gives the perfect portrayal of the loveable, naïve, but unexpectedly wise snowman.
A few of the songs were written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez specifically for the stage version, but as they are the duo also responsible for the original music, it all fits together nicely. Audiences will of course revel in numbers like ‘Do You Want to Build a Snowman’ and ‘Love Is An Open Door’ but they can also enjoy new tunes , such as ‘A Little Bit of You’ and ‘Hans of The Southern Isles’.
Frozen The Musical opens with exuberant performances from the young Elsa and Anna, and it reminds us that the film was aimed at a younger audience, and that same audience will delight in seeing their favourite characters brought to life. For adults, who may have become a little jaded hearing the soundtrack on repeat, there is plenty to enjoy, this is a spectacular musical that exceeds every expectation, and brings the magic of Disney to the heart of the West End.