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Interview: Obioma Ugoala Talks Disney's FROZEN in the West End

The actor plays Kristoff in the Theatre Royal Drury Lane production

Frozen the Musical
Obioma Ugoala in Frozen

Actor Obioma Ugoala has already clocked up an impressive range of credits in both straight plays and musicals, from numerous productions with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Shakespeare's Globe to Motown and Hamilton; in the latter, he was London's first George Washington.

He's now starring as grumpy ice harvester Kristoff, who gradually thaws towards Princess Anna while helping her track down her magical sister, Elsa, in the stage musical version of Disney's megahit Frozen. The West End production recently announced an extension to October.

Ugoala chats to BroadwayWorld about his way into Kristoff, navigating Covid, magic and puppets, and the need for more inclusive casting in British theatre.

What was your favourite Disney film as a child?

What a tough question! Obviously The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast will have always have a special place in my heart, but my absolute fave has to be the bromance of the oft-underappreciated Fox and the Hound.

When did you first get the call for Frozen, and what was the audition process like?

I was busy rehearsing Much Ado About Nothing with Derek Bond when the audition process started, but with each round the creatives were so supportive, so that by the time I was meeting the full panel and all the execs, I just felt excited about the show. I think there's a perception that auditions should be combative, stressful environments, but ultimately you are just trying to problem solve together, determining if you can successfully collaborate to tell the story in the best way possible.

Had you seen the movie before going into the show? Or anything from the Broadway show?

I mean, who HASN'T seen the movie? But seriously, when I heard the cast recording, what took me by surprise was the fact that [composers] Kristen and Robert [Lopez] had somehow not only recaptured the joy and wonder of the film but also taken us on this wonderful journey of deepening the relationships between these characters who we just fall in love with even more.

How did you cope with all the Covid delays?

My coping mechanism for the Covid delays was to finish writing my book, which had been dominating my thoughts for years, and it is finally being published with Simon & Schuster on 31 March.

Tell us about your take on Kristoff - what was your way into the character?

I'm a really family-oriented guy, be that my blood relations or my chosen family. That was it for me. Once I've chosen you and you're my people, there isn't a bridge I won't cross or a snow storm I won't traverse to help you if I can.

Frozen the Musical
Stephanie McKeon and
Obioma Ugoala in Frozen

Is it particularly exciting to be the first playing Kristoff in the West End - as you were with Washington in Hamilton?

The joy of originating a role in the West End is that it often comes with the privilege of working with the original creatives, so you get to really ask questions and interrogate the character dynamics. Having [director] Michael [Grandage] and [choreographer] Rob [Ashford] in the room meant that it really felt that we could make this show ours.

What was it like collaborating with Stephanie McKeon on building that slow-burn romance?

I have never worked alongside a harder-working, more constantly optimistic ray of sunshine than Steph. She literally IS Anna, which just made it really easy. Getting to play opposite someone who so fundamentally understands the essence of the character means that it's a real joy and privilege to play the show every night, as we are constantly finding new things.

Is it challenging working with the puppets?

The first time I saw Mikayla Jade and Ashley Birchall inside the Sven puppet I was literally awestruck. I just couldn't figure out how they were doing what they were doing. They are athletes. So it's lovely to have someone playing your best friend on stage who is a literal superhuman, and we just take care of each other.

What's your favourite number in the show?

The new duet, "I Can't Lose You", nearly broke my heart during rehearsals at the Jerwood Space. Not only is it incredibly well written, but the sisterly chemistry that Steph and Samantha [Barks] have makes it incredibly moving.

The sets and costumes are so impressive. Does that help to find the reality in this fantastical tale?

Of course! Christopher Oram's designs and Neil Austin's lighting help to create a world that is so vividly painted that it is easy to imagine the magical world of Arendelle.

If you could have one magical power, what would it be?

Could you imagine being able to mimic something having just seen or heard it once? I would never have to stress about dance calls or learning choreo or harmonies ever again.

Frozen the Musical
Obioma Ugoala with Sven in Frozen

Have you had any funny responses from the children in the audience?

Oliver Ormson is so charming as Hans that even those people who have seen the film forget that he turns out (plot spoiler ahead) to be a villain and are really shocked when the twist comes. That being said, one child saw him emerge for his first entrance during "For the First Time in Forever" and just booed him immediately!

It's hugely welcome to see more racial diversity in recent West End musicals - although there's a long way to go! Are you particularly proud to play this part in a family show, inspiring the next generation?

Disney films are so universal and DTG are committed to making the show genuinely feels like it's for everyone. When I was first thinking about getting into theatre as a teenager, I didn't think I could make it in musical theatre because I didn't see myself represented on stage in any West End shows other than Lion King. I love that my Disney journey feels like it's come full circle.

You've also done numerous fantastic Shakespeare productions. Would you say straight theatre is ahead of musicals in that diverse casting respect?

As I say, we have made huge strides in the past few years. Both in musical theatre and in straight theatre. Yet so much of the casting I see is defined by rather than informed by the marginalised voices in these shows.

British theatre as a whole must do so much more to have inclusive casting on our stages, from disability to gender, race to sexuality. This will involve doing something we haven't traditionally done. Two plus two will ALWAYS equal four unless you change your input. What is our input? Is theatre for everyone?

What dream roles (or venues/collaborators) are still on your bucket list?

Lynette Linton and Roy Alexander Weise are two of the most exciting directors in British theatre at the moment. If either of them called me and said they wanted to do Macbeth or an Ibsen or a Miller, I'd be there in a heartbeat.

Are you excited about Frozen extending, and how long do you think you'll stay with the show?

If the past few years have taught me anything, it is to be grateful and not take anything for granted. I'm just so glad to be back performing again with audiences who are loving the show as much as we are playing to them. I hope we run for another 10 years!

Finally, why would you recommend that people come see Frozen?

Frozen is a story about love, friendship and how far we will go for those we care about. With voices that will warm your heart, a score that will take your breath away and effects that will make you think magic is real, it's a show for grandparents and grandkids alike - and I can't wait to see everyone in Arendelle.

Frozen the Musical is currently booking at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane until 23 October - book tickets here

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Marianka Swain was UK Editor-in-chief of BroadwayWorld. A London-based theatre critic and arts journalist, she also contributes to other outlets such as the Telegraph, The i Paper, Ham & H... (read more about this author)


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