Summer may have only just ended, but winter is undoubtedly here. Frozen, the global juggernaut and cultural phenomenon, has made its long-awaited West End debut in a show of such eye-wateringly high production values that it might make your teeth chatter. As a spectacle, it is a sight to behold: a show dedicated to pure escapism that has the velocity of a bedazzled freight train, leaving you dazed, breathless, and covered in confetti, if perhaps a little hollow.
There is real depth to Michael Grandage’s staging, from the cloistered confines of Arendelle castle to the towering heights of Elsa’s snow palace, and in the beautifully tactile instances of stage magic and puppetry that are pocketed throughout. These include an extraordinarily expressive design for the reindeer Sven, which invoked squeals of delight from a predominantly young audience. Christopher Oram’s classic storybook design, meanwhile, is sharply contrasted against Finn Ross’s shimmering projections, which splinter and fracture across the carved wooden edges of the Theatre Royal’s proscenium arch, atmospherically depicting a once-sunny kingdom plunged into an icy, ominous winter.
The script, by the film’s writer and co-director Jennifer Lee, is serviceable, if not overly adventurous – it retains well-loved jokes from the film, but does little to deepen the characters or narratives already familiar to most audiences. The same goes for the new music written by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez: for the most part, it’s filler, pleasant enough on the ear but a means of getting to the big showpiece songs – but then, those moments are truly sensational, with performances that blow the roof off the theatre. Stephanie McKeon’s Anna is delightfully gutsy, with shades of vulnerability hidden under a megawatt smile, and Samantha Barks as Elsa is both ethereal and commanding in her poise and regality. There is nothing in the new material that’s going to become as culturally pervasive as “Let It Go”, although the bonkers second-half opener, “Hygge”, is a wonderfully silly ode to cosiness in cold weather, complete with a chorus line of ostensibly nude sauna-goers conga-lining across the stage.
For the most part, though, this stage adaptation of Frozen is intended to feel as comforting and familiar as one of Olaf’s warm hugs. It wants to maintain what it is that made its source material so wildly successful in the first place, and the best way to do that is, essentially, a 1:1 recreation of the film, down to Elsa’s iconic sparkling blue dress (revealed in a sleight of hand so good that the stage managers should receive a raise for pulling it off every night). You can see it even in the way in which Craig Gallivan’s Olaf, though blessed with an impeccable sense of comic timing and some excellent puppeteering skills, seems to have been directed to mimic Josh Gad’s delivery from the film, presumably in an effort to not alienate the snowman’s hordes of young fans. You could call it fan service, but it’s also clearly a case of protecting a multimillion-dollar brand. Frozen is pure product by this point, if you couldn’t tell by the soft toys being touted by the ushers in the interval: immaculately executed, yes, but with the undeniable air of a well-oiled theme park ride.
‘Frozen’ the musical runs at Theatre Royal Drury Lane now