The chilliest show in town continues to melt hearts and give warm welcomes (and hugs) to one of London’s most historical and longest-running theatres. Guillermo Názara reviews Frozen, The Musical, to let us know his thoughts about the stage adaptation of Disney’s highest-grossing animated film of all time.
If Disneyland is the place where dreams come true, at least if you lay those on a talking rodent with a prepubescent voice, then the theatre is definitely where the company smashes them. Despite the success of some of its productions, no one can objectively deny that the stage adaptations of Uncle Walt’s multi-billion (with a ‘b’) enterprise usually do not match its value in the stock market – nor what they’re able to do in their theme parks! Being almost the inventors of the ‘dark ride’ concept, which the first Imagineers themselves saw as a new way of creating theatrical entertainment, their constant investment in developing state-of-the-art techonology for their attractions can only rise the standards as for what to expect when they’re doing the same, after all, in a more conventional venue.
But fantasy is just fantasy and, although Disney has built an empire out of it, its foundations have always been at stake (at least for what artistic and production quality is concerned) when it comes to turning their animated pieces into live events. Generally cheap and basic at their best, a long list of disappointments have gradually originated a particular feeling within myself (and within a few more people, I can assure) – manifesting every time they announce the making of their next musical: appathy. Of course, Frozen had no chances to avoid that.
Media night arrives and there I am about to watch a show that I presume will be similar to the others I’ve had the…. better not to say what…. of witnessing – an overpromise for which I wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting their money back. The auditorium goes into darkness, the overture starts and the curtain, through a misty mixture of glaze and northern lights, disappears into the fly tower to reveal what I can only describe through my reaction: a jaw drop. Yes, you’ve read right. They have actually done it well this time – very, very well indeed!
This is probably the only occasion when the production pictures are actually the opposite to what Disney’s stage department is accostumed to give us – it’s better when you see it in person. Giving the impression of sparing no expense with this one, the intricacy of the set and costume designs (both credit to Christopher Oram) almost reach an operatic status, featuring stunning (and often gigantic) props regardless of how long they are on display. It doesn’t matter if the scene takes 2 minutes or 20 – either case, you’re going to be wowed. Opulent and magical, and thus capturing the essence of the story and the heart of the show, the layout of this scenery also serves as a much educational lesson to fellows from the guild – so they can learn how to use projections properly. If it enhances the appearance of a physical set, by all means go for it – but please, don’t reduce a design to just a screen with drawings. We’re not in the movies, after all.
The astonishing level of the scenography is (to my utter pleasure) very well supported by the rest of the creative team. With enjoyable pace and quite a few new memorable moments (surely several young patrons were converted into theatre religion that night), the added repertoire (penned by the film’s original songwriting duo Robert Lopez and Kristen Anderson-Lopez) is a wonderful adition to the narrative – featuring slightly better lyrics than the previous well-known numbers and catchy tunes in the same style of its cartoon counterpart. All of it backed by another much refreshing trait that seems to be shyly earning its way back to commercial theatre: a full piece orchestra with no pre-recorded elements, brilliantly and imaginately instrumentalized by David Metzger, whose contribution exudes, above all, elegance, detail and fondness for variety through very good understanding of the band’s elements. Finally, the special effects -most of them relying on mapping and conceived by Jeremy Chernick- provide the production with the awe of amazement the competition had, on many moments, offered us – but Disney really never had before. And yes, I’ve seen the flying carpet.
If replica productions have taught us something (though this is an improvement of the Broadway original) is that, in spite of the same approach and visuals, everything can be ruined if those who tread the boards can’t keep up with their demands. But if there’s something this show is not short of is surprises, and one of them (though the only thing we should expect in the West End) is that the cast is in fact brilliant. Despite the understandable hype on Samantha Barks (her portrayal of the coldly distant though good-hearted Elsa is notable, apart from her remarkable -almost scary!- close resemblance to the animated character), Emily Lane is however the number 1 sister, not only because of her pleasant vocals but her hilarious depiction of the messy but much loveable Anna. The same praise goes to Craig Gallivan in the part of warm-hugs craving snowman Olaf, with a performance very close to the film’s, and also Oliver Ormson as Hans, endowing the role with deceiving attractiveness and noticeable presence. But it’s not just the leads that stand out in this show, as the whole ensemble raises to prominence throughout the entire spectacle, with palpable talent but even much more discernable commitment.
Walt Disney used to tell that he had the idea for his park while sitting on a bench watching his daughters ride the merry-go-round, thinking that there should be a place where both parents and children could have fun together. Many years have gone by since that passing thought became a reality that has given joy to millions of people for several decades and many more to come. But the idea still lives and, at last, has finally been given new birth on the stage. Because Frozen is precisely what all the company’s previous productions should have been like. It’s taken roughly 20 winters (sorry for the pun) for the board to finally get it, but at least the path’s been laid, and hopefully, more cobbles will be added to it through time. As Elsa proudly chants, it’s time to test the limits and break through. Fortunately, that’s been the case.
Frozen plays at London’s Theatre Royal Drury Lane from Tuesday to Sunday. Tickets are available on the following link.