For the first time in forever, Theatre Royal Drury Lane have opened up the gates to play host to the West End premiere of Disney's Frozen. Having been closed since January 2021, one of the biggest theatres in the West End becomes home to one of the biggest movies of the Century.
Upon its release in 2013, Frozen become an instant classic, becoming the highest grossing animated film in history, and unleashing an absolute earworm on us all. You know the one. A musical adaptation seemed inevitable and, sure enough, it opened on Broadway in 2018, running until the pandemic closed its doors permanently. Now, a year later than planned, it crossed the pond to begin what is sure to be a West End sensation. It is currently, and ironically, the hottest ticket in town. But is it any good?
Based on the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale The Snow Queen, the magic from the screen has been imaginatively recreated with some truly breathtaking effects. Clever use of video effects and props that appear out of nowhere are brilliant ways of signifying Elsas gift/curse. The vast stage transforms itself wonderfully with some of the best staging I have ever witnessed - including a bridge that seems to go on forever and a fantastic use of the cast to set the scene in the climactic scene. Precise choreography from Rob Ashford adds to the grandeur of the scenes.
The original 'Let It Go' sequence is the definition of iconic so to see how faithfully it is recreated can bring even a grown man to tears (Yes, I'm referring to myself) - the moment Elsa's ice palace is revealed will surely draw an intake of breath from even those with the coldest of hearts. The result of which is an act 1 finale which goes down with 'Defying Gravity' as one of the best in musical theatre.
A big show deservees a big cast and there are some absolute powerhouses in this, Idina Menzel became a household name (apart from when she was called Adele Dazeem) for her portrayal of Queen Elsa, so stepping into those icy shoes is a tough ask for any performer. Step forward Samantha Barks. Oozing star power and with a voice that gives you chills, she captivates you from her first appearance and ensures that this will become a career defining role for her. Her 'Let It Go' is simply sensational, but don't be fooled into thinking this is a one song show. She gets to shine on two songs written for the Broadway production, the beautiful 'Dangerous To Dream' and the incredible 'Monster' which allows Barks to give the vocal performance of the night.
While everybody knows Elsa, don't underestimate Anna who in actual fact spends more time on stage than her powerful sister. Wonderfully played by Stephanie McKeon, she exudes all of the sweetness and innocence the character is synonymous with and becomes the heart of the show. Tackling some of the shows most famous numbers including 'For The First Time In Forever' and 'Love Is An Open Door', she delivers a vocal masterclass. Her act 2 duet with Elsa, 'I Can't Lose You' was newly written after the Broadway production had opened and provides a tender highlight between the sisters. A special mention has to go to the revolving cast of children who play the two leads (tonight played by Sasha Watson-Lebo and Summer Betson) - all of whom are exceptional talents.
Craig Gallivan as Olaf channels his personality perfectly, with a vocal impression that sounds remarkably similar to Josh Gad's original. Heartwarming at times and hilarious at others, he provides fan favourite moments including the brilliantly staged 'In Summer' - complete with a cheeky little reference to Frozen 2. Fresh from appearing in Hamilton, Obiuma Ugoala is a brilliant Kristoff, displaying amazing chemistry with Stephanie McKeon... as well as his reindeer, of course. Oliver Ormson thrills as the complicated Hans, perfectly encapsulating a role so many audience members love to hate while Richard Frame's role as the Duke of Weasletown (Weselton) is small but mighty. Ashley Birchall and Mikayla Jade may not have any lines as Sven, the appearance of the loveable reindeer on that stage surely made everyone in that audience feel like a kid again.
I was lucky enough to see the original Broadway production three years ago. While I came out of there smiling away, I did get the sense that it was a bit of a fixer upper. Thankfully, the West End version well and truly blows it out of the water. Between new staging, a revised song list and a stellar cast, the West End have well and truly elevated what was a good show to what is now an incredible one.
It would be easy to dismiss Frozen as a childrens show. In actual fact, there are certain moments aimed at adults here that will, thankfully, fly over the kids heads. And get ready for the most risqué moment you will ever see in a Disney show with the hilarious Act 2 opening number 'Hygge'. While it may come across a little bit pantomime at times, what we have here is a well crafted musical that will appeal to kids and big kids alike. Seeing the children react to what they are witnessing on stage truly is a beautiful sight to behold, though it may give them ridiculously high standards for all future shows they see. Even if you're not a Disney fan - fans of musical theatre will go nuts for this. The audience reaction tonight was particularly raucous, confirming the wide cross section of people this show appeals to.
In summery, Frozen really is as good as it gets. A feelgood show that gives us the true meaning of escapism and melts away the memories of the last 18 months. The ridiculously incredible cast paired with the best staging you will see in the West End means this show has all the elements for true theatre perfection. While the Broadway production has now sadly closed, expect this to run on the West End for a long while. After all, Drury Lane would be crazy to let it go.
Frozen plays at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Tickets from lwtheatres.com