Frozen the Musical review: This long-awaited West End stage version feels lukewarm

·2-min read
Samantha Barks and Stephanie McKeon in Frozen  (Johan Persson)
Samantha Barks and Stephanie McKeon in Frozen (Johan Persson)

Fans of the hit 2013 Disney film will doubtless love it, but this musical stage adaptation of Frozen left me cold. On the plus side it’s full of dazzle and wit, with powerhouse central performances by sharp-edged Samantha Barks and winningly goofy Stephanie McKeon as sisters Elsa and Anna. Puppet snowman Olaf – operated and voiced by Craig Gallivan – is a joy, and the refurbished Drury Lane looks ravishing.

The themes of empowerment and acceptance remain strong but the story was always weak. And despite several new songs, Michael Grandage’s production strives to emulate the film without adding substantial theatrical oomph. Choreographer Rob Ashford contributes witty dances for couples but generically whirling Ruritanian crowds. Let it go? I probably could.

At least it goes at a cracking pace. In the first few minutes impossibly cute young incarnations of the sisters rip through four songs, Elsa accidentally injures Anna with her ice magic, and they lose both regal parents. Before you know it, adult Anna falls for minor Prince Hans on first meeting and Elsa flees her coronation when her magic reveals itself, scattering dagger-like icicles as she goes.

Samantha Barks as Elsa (Johan Persson)
Samantha Barks as Elsa (Johan Persson)

Designer Christopher Oram sends frost creeping across the theatre’s proscenium arch and conjures up icy staircases in a trice, plus a bridge that trundles across the stage, as long and impressive as a Diplodocus. Elsa’s palace looks like an explosion in a Swarovski factory.

Special effects maestro Jeremy Chernick sends snow fluttering from Elsa’s fingers and creates miraculous costume changes for Let It Go, which Barks delivers with heartfelt power and the poise of a Hitchcock blonde. Among the new songs added by original composer-lyricists Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, Hygge stands out. Featuring ‘nude’ Swedes whipping each other with twigs, it’s bouncy, fun but also weirdly out of place and dated: wasn’t Hygge yesterday’s thing?

Obioma Ugoala is an under-developed Kristoff to McKeon’s spirited Anna, though he gains in charm. His reindeer Sven is given agile but inexpressive life, while the rock-like trolls of the film here look like trustafarians at a festival.

You can almost feel the cast side-eyeing the audience in the bits where live action inevitably can’t compete with the effortless dash and invention of computer animation. Not to mention the plot holes. A frozen brain can be cured but not a frozen heart, you say? Elsa is immensely powerful but easily captured? And sorry, run Prince Hans’s dastardly plan by me again…

Craig Gallivan as Olaf (Johan Persson)
Craig Gallivan as Olaf (Johan Persson)

It’s still refreshing to see a show with two female leads, where romantic love takes a back seat to sibling affection. The creators steer clear of the popular fan theory that Elsa is gay. I imagine Disney wouldn’t allow much deviation from the winning film formula. Which may be why this stage version feels lukewarm.

Booking to June 2022: frozenthemusical.co.uk

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Frozen opens in the West End: meet Samantha Barks and Stephanie McKeon AKA Elsa and Anna

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