The Disney animated blockbuster turbo-charged by that song defined a generation of children. The musical version swirled onto the London stage this week in a blizzard of sequins, crystals and fake snow. And that was just the red carpet. When leading lady Samantha Barks unleashed a sensational Let It Go at the end of Act One, transforming mid-belt into a glittering ice queen, the ear-splitting cheers of the opening night crowd blew the roof off the beautifully refurbished Theatre Royal. I don’t think I have even been in such a grand theatre. It’s well worth arriving early to look at the costumes in the display cases and the stunning new terrace bar.
This show literally shines brightest in stunning set-pieces from a blindingly bedazzled palace to lantern-strewn terraces backlit by the shimmering Northern Lights. There is a jaw-dropping bridge bedecked with gigantic glistening icicles that emerges from the wings and keeps rolling across the stage until it must be as long as three theatres. Where does it go? How do they do that?
Pure magic and that’s before Elsa’s powers erupted across the giant LED screens framing the stage. You could hear our delighted gasps across London.
Barks is vocally majestic as Elsa while Stephanie McKeon brings an endearing giddiness to Anna. Obioma Ugoala charms as good-hearted ice-seller Kristoff and Oliver Ormson is suitably slick as duplicitous Prince Hans. But it’s the sidekicks who steal the show. We all cheered for Sven the Reindeer and Olaf the Snowman (a hilarious Craig Gallivan), both beautifully brought to life by a combination of puppetry and actors. The children around me were completely enraptured.
Michael Grandage’s straightforward production faithfully follows its cartoon roots, duly delivering fan-favourite moments alongside singalong standards like For The First Time In Forever and Do You Want To Build A Snowman? Personally, I loved bonkers new song Hygge, joyously performed by the excellent cast dashing in and out of a sauna in sheer bodystockings and strategically placed leaves.
From all the gasps, chuckles and cheers around me throughout the night, there is no doubt this show will delight diehard fans. However, all the spectacle can’t quite disguise a lack of substance in the characterisations and plot.
Little ones will love every second of it, but the best Disney has always operated on another level for adults, too. It’s a missed opportunity.
Composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez have added twelve new songs for the stage production but some additional scenes and serviceable numbers like Elsa’s tortured Monster and the sisters’ plaintive I Can’t Lose You fumble the chance to develop their characters beyond Elsa’s brooding and Anna’s plucky naivety.
Similarly, where Disney embraced painful parental loss from Bambi to The Lion King, here the deaths of the King and Queen at sea are glossed over. Emotionally, few punches ever really land. Except for one rather misjudged actual right hook that seems rather the wrong message to be sending to the young audience. Dramatically, the epic scale and real peril of Anna’s journey to her sister’s mountain palace in the film are also entirely absent, replaced by lots of frantic running across the stage and slow-motion posturing.
Sketched out by a perfunctory script and lyrics, the characters may be live in front of us but sometimes seem more two-dimensional on stage than on the screen.
Undeniably fun and absolutely dazzling at times, the show seems strangely skittish about the necessary danger and darkness at the heart of any fairytale.