Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London
Phew. The Broadway-rooted, Disneylicious, long-awaited red-carpet premiere night featured (of course) an ice-blue carpet. And the throng bursting out to meet the paps afterwards was met by actual snow-blowers, so that our soggy heatwave outfits blended nicely into the evening’s actual rain as we skittered out of range. As if we weren’t confused enough by this Lopez-and-Lee adaptation-cum-homage to the animated Disney film, itself very freely based on The Snow Queen by that treasured oddball Hans Christian Andersen.
The film itself has, against all sense, over its eight-year life firmly gripped the global female imagination from age five to millennial. It has caused tots to build countless Olafs in this spring’s snowfall, and their new-feminist single aunties to go karaoke mad every hen night with the anthem ‘Let it Go’, resolving “don’t be the good girl you always have to be… test the limits, break through, no rules for me”.
Which is only problematic if you pause to notice that Elsa’s personal liberation from trying to control her powers and regulate her emotions involves nearly killing her sister twice, plunging a country into perpetual winter and starvation, and gliding off to stay alone in an ice palace, seeing nobody. More late-Ceaucescu than Cinderella. Her sister Anna has to work for the happy ending without even having one decent anthem.
Cards on the table, I only watched the film a few days ago for research, and while mildly fond of Olaf the snowman found it odd going. And wondered why (apart from the obvious) Michael Grandage, subtle and thoughtful director, would involve himself. Unless for the sheer glee of big-show big-machinery, with Christopher Oram and video designer Finn Ross let loose to draw elegantly on Norwegian art, and create immense shining northern lands and instant icicles while deploying astonishing lighting and snappy costume and set transformations. So OK, yes, you can see why he would.
And being a savvy director Grandage does keep it speedy: indeed the production’s greatest saving grace is in the choreographer Rob Ashford’s ability to pop in fast, short dance jokes and effects (ensemble required to be sea waves, trolls, snowstorms, and at one point impressively frozen into a solid block). Beyond that, I really don’t buy the director’s valiant attempt to talk up the parallel with our frozen Covid year. Or the feminism.
One problem the adaptors met is in having to use quite a lot of the film’s dialogue, which is – in gallant Anna’s case – painfully half-baked high-school romcom banter (“Can I say something crazy?” “I like crazy!”). Olaf the snowman, beautifully handled by Craig Gallivan, has better lines, and manages to get his head separated from his chubby arse at one point, a pleasing nod to the animated film. Among the new songs the Hygge one is the most successful, especially when supplemented by a faux-nude conga out of the sauna in some very remarkable hats. Of the original songs (apart from ‘Let it Go’) the best transplanted one is ‘Fixer-Upper’.
But the jerking between Disney infantilism and moments of artistic grandeur is sometimes plain odd. When the romcom high jinks of Ana and Hans precede the solemn coronation moment with a properly spine-tingling choir, it feels like two clashing shows. On the other hand there’s good dramatic distinction between the sisters’ moves and voices: Samantha Barks gliding around as a pure fine classically-toned Elsa and Stephanie McKeon galumphing lovably with more of a mid-Atlantic popster sound. That works.
So it’s a decent enough Christmas show. And whoever spends the time inside Sven the Reindeer, a proper panto-beast with excellent legs, deserves a bow too. As they all do, and frankly, get the fourth mouse for it. These big musicals have had to rehearse and solidify at warp speed after the worst year ever for the business.Honour to them. But for all the design and directorial and choreographic brilliance, I cannot lie: Frozen the Musical is not a pig’s ear, but neither is it quite the silk purse it should be.
Box office Www.booking.lwtheatres.co.uk To JUNE 2022
Rating four, one being bigmusicals-mouse