Today I went to the theatre for the first time in forever, for the Frozen musical. I am pleased to report it is exactly what it should be.
You secretly want it to feel like Disney did when you were a child, when stories and reality still overlapped, and all was wonder and wide-eyed excitement. This is obviously a tall order. Nostalgia can get you partway there, and that’s usually dandy. But a bit of you still yearns for a touch of that breathlessness.
Frozen gives this a pretty good shot. It is not an easy cash-in. It has put the effort in, and it pays off.
It does this by being a real spectacle. It is proper dazzling. It fuses beautiful set design with pixel-perfect digital projection mapping, but the two are blended so smoothly that it never feels like a special effect. It’s just Elsa getting emotional and remodeling the entire set in seconds. Wood cracks, snow falls, the temperature seems to drop 10 degrees. Ice radiates perfectly from her hands in choreography that must have taken intricate practice, creating a palace that is honestly visually better than the one in the film. Northern lights shimmer, objects gracefully fly to the wings, and all the time snow swirls in the background. It might have been actual particles of something, it might have been digital: I honestly couldn’t tell. I am a sucker for this kind of ambient magic.
Olaf is particularly clever. He really shouldn’t work on a stage. He’s a three foot walking talking snowman with a very specific non-human bearing. How do you do that and not have him look like someone in a suit? I will not reveal this secret, but they pull off quite the trick here. I am amazed it worked, but after 10mins I was cheerily watching and believing the walking, talking, non-CGI snowman.
The above is very much my kind of thing. I very much enjoy appreciating visual skill and hard work. But I also wanted them to play it straight. Plenty of stage shows go meta for an easy laugh or to paper over a difficult segue. That’s even easier to do in shows nominally for children. But Frozen doesn’t. It tells the story, with minimal adaptations for the stage. It retcons it a little in light of the sequel, and adds a fair few new songs as the second half is a bit sparse otherwise (fans will note the odd inspiration from the unused Anderson-Lopez demos on the Frozen Deluxe album). But it’s the right story, well-told, and they don’t shy away from the tougher parts. They don’t attempt the snow giant, but everything else is intact.
Also: there is a dress. I have been to enough ballroom dances to know a sparkly dress from a holy-wow sparkly dress, and this was a cut above. It was the talk of the interval.
I haven’t mentioned the music, singing, and dancing because they’re what you expect and enjoy in a west-end production. Impressive bordering on ridiculous. Elsa is played by Samantha Barks (Éponine from Les Mis), who seems to be enjoying herself immensely.
It’s bright, it’s clever, it’s a bit like being a kid again. And when they play the first two bars of Let It Go there’s a quiet happy sigh from every child in the room. And not a few of their parents.
Thank you very much to the friend from work who donated the tickets – it was very much appreciated!