The stage adaptation of Frozen amounts to a triumph for Michael Grandage, its director, and Christopher Oram, who oversees the scenic and costume design. I can say, without fear or favour, it is directed with skill and it also looks great.
The fusion with Finn Ross’s video design is admirably done, and, seeing this show open last week on one of the hottest nights of the year, there were times I genuinely started to shiver amid all of the high definition ice.
Grandage is, of course, a cerebral director – best known for a run of ground-breaking plays he staged at the Donmar during his decade as its artistic director – and Disney’s decision to entrust him with turning their 2013 computer-animated musical fantasy into a stage production seemed, on the face of it, somewhat perverse. It felt a bit like asking, say, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to bang out a few episodes of Coronation Street.
Grandage does have a good track record when it comes to mounting big musicals – not least Merrily We Roll Along, Grand Hotel and Guys and Dolls – but some thought has been put into the stories that all these shows relate. Not an awful lot has, quite frankly, been put into Frozen, which is a straight rip-off of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen.
Grandage does as well as any director could in the circumstances. Organisationally, it must have been a huge undertaking. As with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, the stage is continually revolving and every actor has to be precisely on his or her mark or run the risk of being carried to entirely the wrong place. Grandage manages to co-ordinate the actors, the big dance routines, the special effects and the music with all of the precision of a military commander in overall charge of a battle being fought by land, sea and air.
The other things to be said in this show’s favour: Samantha Barks looks stunning and sings sensationally as the show’s heroine Elsa, who has a regrettable tendency to turn everything around her into ice. Oliver Ormson – think of a youthful Hugh Grant – is a lot of fun as her dashing but flawed suitor Hans. Take a bow, too, Stephanie McKeon, who gives the show some much-needed warmth as Elsa’s sister Anna.
The show has its crowd-pleasing antics – the puppet snowman, Olaf, who is worked by Craig Gallivan, a reindeer controlled by Mikayla Jade and then there is something that looks very much like the late Keith Harris’ Orville the Duck that puts in occasional appearances. I am happy, of course, to be emotionally exploited watching a show like this, but this one does push it, perhaps more than is endurable.
The real problems with the show are structural: Jennifer Lee’s script and Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s music and lyrics. The big numbers – apart from the now all-too-familiar Let It Go – are just not terribly memorable. The raw material simply isn’t really a match for so many of the exceptional creatives involved in bringing it to life.
I don’t doubt for one moment this show’s importance. It’s not overstating it to say the recovery of the West End’s fragile economy is to a large extent dependent upon it. I accept it isn’t really aimed at my demographic, but I do think they would still have liked a little more depth and maybe a little less spectacle.