Icy Spectacle Melts the Hearts of Wannabe Elsas and Arandelle-Hardened Parents
I am not alone in having a child who watched Frozen and subsequently only identifies as Elsa. So the West End adaptation faced the challenge of living up to the film’s extraordinary legacy, while preventing Arandelle-fatigued parents from spooning out their own eyeballs. And it triumphed in both - my eyeballs hugged their sockets and the show trounced the movie, both in spectacle and depth.
My daughter was gracious enough to lay down her tiara and give the limelight to the real Princess Elsa (played by the mesmerising Samantha Barks) for two hours - a long time for any child to sit still, but not in this show. The sea of miniature, wide-eyed Elsas tripped over their icy, blue gowns as they ran up Theatre Royal’s (beautifully refurbished) staircase to their booster-cushioned seats and sat, enthralled for the duration.
Directed by Michael Grandage, Frozen: The Musical arrived from Broadway to the West End. It has music and lyrics for new and old songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez – who created the songs for the film, which have greater magic in their live performance - as well as beautiful choreography, incredible stage magic, illusion and dazzling sets recreating a fairytale Scandinavia.
The opening remains true to the film, with two extraordinary young actresses playing the soon-to-be-tortured sisters, singing about building snowmen and bouncing about on beds, showered in Elsa’s magical snowflakes. But it takes a darker and more affecting turn after the death of their parents, moving closer to Hans Christian Anderson’s The Snow Queen, that it’s based upon.
The Song is saved until the end of the first half, with an explosion of fizzing ice and glitter, transforming the stage from picturesque medieval palace to Arctic wonderland, with lung-shattering vocals and a shimmering costume change which planted the seeds of theatre’s magic in my daughter and, I suspect, many other young children in the packed audience. This time, the song was charged with more heart and darkness - a tormented and lonely monster, finally embracing her magic and shedding the shackles of a world she can’t make herself fit within.
The show really comes into its own in the second half. Elsa’s wonderfully goofy sister, Anna (Stephanie McKeon) might not have Elsa's sequins and fireworks, but her character and presence are absolutely on equal footing, if not bigger, in this production.
The relationship between the sisters is deepened by moving, new numbers like Dangerous to Dream, about Elsa’s deadly, icy magic prompting self-isolation and starving her of time with Anna - the ballad clearly has a deeper, new significance, following the pandemic.
The puppetry is also impressive. Olaf the snowman - controlled by Craig Gallivan - provides welcome comic relief and his brilliant set piece, ‘In Summer’ drew the army of audience-Elsas from their seats. Adults and children alike were also mesmerised by the unsettlingly realistic mastering of Sven, a wonderfully daft and cartoonish puppet reindeer with huge stage presence. LOLs are also provided by the brilliant, new show-stopper, Hygge, satirising the Danish concept of hygge, with ’naked' characters performing a conga out of a sauna.
There are also wonderful stage effects, like the ensemble of actors creating the vision of Anna turning to ice - following Elsa’s ill-contained powers - and the sisters’ love breaking the spell and bringing summer back to icy Arandelle.
When we left the show, my daughter recreated Let It Go (several times) for weary commuters at Charing Cross Station and our train. None of them cracked a smile. But they might have if, like me, they had just left the show, which melts Frozen hearts.