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BWW Review: FROZEN, Theatre Royal Drury Lane


The Disney phenomenon comes to the West End


FrozenI would hazard a guess that most of us know about Disney's colossus Frozen. Made famous when it debuted during Christmas 2013, it quickly became one of the company's animated classics.

Since its release we've had sequels, spinoffs, merchandise and now, a hit musical - which originally premiered in Denver, before opening on Broadway, and has now landed in London's West End. Loosely inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's 19th-century tale The Snow Queen, Disney's version turns much of the original story on its head.

Outside the theatre there is a huge buzz of excitement from audiences of all ages. This is probably the most anticipated musical for a long while, and the UK premiere combines with the reopening of the recently refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane. To talk about the £60m renovation briefly: it's nothing short of fantastic. Grand in gesture, everything oozes class and high quality. Beautiful paintings from Russian artist Maria Kreyn decorate the walls, showcasing the essence of eight Shakespearean plays. The famous playwright has a statue of himself, built by John Cheere, waiting for audiences as they enter the rotunda. And The Garden - the restaurant situated next to the theatre - is a beautiful spot to eat and drink before, during and after the show. All in all, it's a job very well done.

The theatre feels a perfect fit for this musical - providing both an expansive and intimate setting. These are two words I'd use to describe the production; there clearly has been no expense spared to deliver a vibrant, somewhat over the top, lucrative show, but within this mammoth undertaking, there is so much precision and delicacy to the storytelling. Nothing is left to chance; every cue goes off effortlessly and the company execute every moment with a beautiful ease.

We're initially introduced to Arendelle - the fictional land where the show is set - by our young Queen and Princess. Here we really see a star in the making; it's Asanda Abbie Masike who is so funny as the Young Anna, running about the stage as if it's her playground, making the audiences laugh, showcasing her bright talent. The rest of the company do a superb job in building the world, and we're set for a near three-hour rollercoaster of magic and icy enchantment. Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez's famous hit, "Do You Want To Build A Snowman?", is one of the first numbers performed that will feel familiar from the film, but it's been given a slight switch-up to fit the musical theme - feeling bouncier and more comedic than the original. All the songs, even the ones we know, feel fresh and are so enjoyable.

The previously mentioned number allows the Young Anna and Elsa to transition to their older counterparts, which is when we're introduced to musical theatre powerhouses Samantha Barks and Stephanie McKeon - both stars, and two people who feel perfectly cast as the fictional sisters. Their charisma together is contagious and their joy in playing these roles radiates around the room. Their vocals are truly outstanding: they perform each song with an effortless charm and presence. Supported by the ensemble, with exemplary choreography from Rob Ashford, the entire stage is filled with enthusiasm and wonder.

Michael Grandage's production has meticulous detail to it. Any wrong move and it feels like the large Jenga puzzle could fall apart. If a pyrotechnic goes awry, or a stunt moment is a beat too slow, the magic would be ruined. However, everything goes off without an issue, and it is because of Grandage's watertight vision that the audience have such a good time.

Christopher Oram's costume are impeccably designed, incredibly playful and fantastically adaptable to each moment. Elsa's dresses in particular glisten for the whole theatre. The lights shining on the crystals reflect like a glitterball around the auditorium, creating another essence of magic. Oram's set makes use of the venue's architecture; the palace setting fits very well with Drury Lane's grandeur, and when we move to the Frozen kingdom, the set change deliberately takes its time, allowing the audience to see the damage Elsa has caused.

Finn Ross's video and Neil Austin's lighting design, along with Jeremy Chernick's special effects, work hand in hand in hand. Spells are cast, icicles ricochet around us and the auditorium is lit with a glow that feels like a dream. Adding to the flawless creative team palette, Michael Curry's puppetry creations are so impressive. Through them we are able to see popular characters Sven and Olaf, who - being non-human - add that extra supernational spark to the action, really activating our emotions. Olaf is puppeteered superbly by Craig Gallivan; his physical comedy is world class, landing joke after joke. In a company of phenomenal actors, he rises to the top.

The entire cast are superb. You'd expect them to be in this calibre of production, but they exceed your expectations at every moment. It's probably no surprise to hear that the pre-interval ballad "Let It Go" is probably the highlight of the evening. Here we see Elsa process what she has done, along with revelling in her newfound freedom and ability. Barks displays an impressive range, both emotionally and vocally. Her performance is spine-tinglingly phenomenal - goosebumps are genuinely felt - and you just think wow. You are in the presence of absolute greatness. The entire night feels like that.

A lot of us in the room probably expected this show to be great, but I'm not sure we were prepared for how special it would be. The entire evening is filled with nothing but joy and smiles. The company have knocked it right out of the park and this musical is sure to have a long-lasting legacy in the West End.

Frozen running at Theatre Royal Drury Lane for the foreseeable.

Photo: Johan Persson

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