Phil Willmott

Disney’s Frozen Transfers to London – But Will They Improve It?

Frozen the Disney Musical It’s been announced that the Broadway musical based on Disney's massive hit movie musical will transfer to London, opening at a newly refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane this autumn.

The press release landed in our in-box at 7am with a typically breathless round up of stats and comments from the key people involved.

Perhaps the most exciting quote comes from the director, Michael Grandage who has apparently said, “We’re all looking forward to getting back in the room together as a creative team, to build our London company and bring Frozen to the West End.”

Is it too optimistic to interpret “back in the room” as meaning they’re going to take a fresh look at it? I hope so, when I reviewed it on Broadway I considered it a three star “near miss” concluding “When the production inevitably moves to London, where home-town goodwill for the creative team, will propel it to new life, it may yet shape up with a few changes”.

It’s certainly going to be big news in London for a while as it was in New York but the trouble is the buzz on Broadway pretty soon died down and it soon became very easy to get a ticket at any performance.

Whilst I was in New York to review it I recall Broadway insiders were also surprised to discover that a new musical MEAN GIRLS, without the power of Disney marketing behind it, was actually taking more money at the box office on one particular week than FROZEN the seemingly sure thing.

As I wrote at the time –

“The sense of expectation in the auditorium before the show started was tangible. Plenty of youngsters had dressed up as their favourite characters from the film. I'm sure they found the whole experience truly memorable but for a discerning Broadway audience you get the general feeling that it’s not quite hitting the spot.

The first 15 minutes are an almost non-stop musical trudge through the back story of the central characters and there is very little to laugh at or smile about. If you're interested in the evolution of traditional folk stories, as I am, you'll find if fascinating and deftly done and the kids around me were gripped but the tone is set. The show is going to be fun but not too much fun.

As you probably know it’s the story of two princess Elsa and Anya. Elsa has been cursed with a gift which turns objects around her to Ice. This is increasingly inconvenient as she grows older and when her parents die and she is obliged to take over ruling the kingdom mayhem ensues when it becomes clear that she cannot control her talent and the country is plunged into an everlasting winter. Elsa flees to a mountain hideaway but her beloved sister sets out on a quest to bring her home and help her restore the kingdom to its usual summary high spirits. Along the way she teams up with a talking snowman and a hunky young ice seller with a good heart and a pet reindeer. Happily she escapes the attentions of a handsome but conniving prince on the make and the story has been justly celebrated for making boy-girl romance secondary to female friendships and empowerment. In the film there are also funny trolls which in the stage show are reimagined as rather sinister, disconcertingly sexy, mountain creatures whose powerful magic helps the story along.

All the songs that you love from the film are there although cumbersome costumes often prevent high-spirited dancing. The film’s song writers have also added some powerful new ballads. Unfortunately we get one after another in Act Two, practically reducing the action to a standstill and straining the patience of all ages.

The production is undoubtedly lavish, there’s a lot of Santa’s Grotto type scenery and yet the effects are nothing special. You can see stage magic that’s just as impressive in any large-scale regional pantomime across the UK. I was expecting more from the Hollywood dream factory staging a magical story for New York’s dream factory. Making the walls light up with icicle projections is so easy most of us could probably get Siri to do it in our bedrooms. There is a wonderful moment when Elsa changes in an instant from dowdy clothes to a spectacular ice queen outfit. It’s well done but it’s a low tech Victorian stage trick that’s regularly used everywhere from Las Vegas to those pantomimes I mentioned before.

It’s a little bit too serious for its own good a little too often, unless it’s trying a little too hard to be a little bit too silly. It’s not quite magical enough and the effects aren’t quite innovative enough and the result is a rather ponderous beast that doesn’t lift the spirits in the same way that the cartoon does.

When I took the elevator to my apartment later that afternoon I was holding a copy of the FROZEN program and a woman asked me if I’d seen it and what it was like. I replied that it was great but not quite as amazing as I’d hoped. She shrugged and said she’d heard that from a few people. And that I suppose is the key to why this latest Disney sure-thing hasn’t quite made the impact on Broadway that its producers must’ve been hoping for.”

But London is a fresh chance for the creative team to inject a little more magic into the mix. If they do that it may well be able to fill The Theatre Royal for a long time to come.

Frozen the Musical - London