I need to make one thing crystal clear at the start of this review. I absolutely love Frozen.
I first watched the movie with my family the day after Boxing Day in the Regent cinema in Lyme Regis, a venue which has since been destroyed in a fire. I was sitting next to my cousin who was three in 2013 and is now at secondary school. The piano notes at the beginning of the first chorus of ‘Let it Go’ are a Core Memory and I will always remember seeing this movie that I enjoyed so much, in that place that I miss, with my family that I love.
So this is all to say, I completely get why Frozen is like crack to little kids because it’s like crack to me!
Frozen the stage musical is a richer and more complex beast. It’s a story for adults, and you can really spend a lot more time spent on characters when you’re not packing a story into 1hr 30. (Guys! Isn’t it great how a stage allows for more rich storytelling! I missed this!)
The show makes a big effort to hit the same emotional plot points as the film, whilst shifting other stuff around. Some of the plot changes are very welcome- Anna doesn’t wander around in a frozen dress for ages, which is good to see. Her and Kristoff’s love story is also fleshed out and we see more of Elsa’s internal struggles, Samantha Barks shines in ‘Dangerous to Dream’.
There’s some bits of delightful fun too- ‘What Do You Know About Love’ is another lifted-straight-from-the-movie’s-dialogue number, but there’s no real surprises until Hygge, an utterly bananas cabaret number sung by the ‘wohoo, big summer blowout’ sauna owner. I love this, because it reminds us, hey! We’re at the theatre! That’s where this production shines, when it acknowledges the form that it’s in and doesn’t lean too heavily on projection or play-by-play recreations of scenes from the movie.
The two leads, Samantha Barks and Stephanie McKeon, are fantastic. It’s interesting because Anna is your archetypal Disney princess, in the beginning of the show she’s positively bounding around the stage full of that cartoonish glee. She reminds me of Amy Adams playing a parody of a Disney princess in Enchanted, before being sombered by her circumstances and becoming the hero of the hour.
Elsa however, is a Disney princess who doesn’t act like a Disney princess- the only character on stage who is an introvert! The build-up to the jubilant ‘Let It Go’ (it’s so great) is such an effective pay off for this character journey.
Obioma Ugoala as Kristoff is also pulling focus with pure charisma. The thing that I actually can’t get over, and for some reason is a real sticking point, is Oliver Ormson as Hans.
The characterisation of Hans in this production leans away from the ‘Prince Charming’ archetype, and more towards an awkward youngest brother, a clumsy prince who hides his nefarious purposes under a foil of earnestness.
But Ormson’s performance never lands sincerely, and he comes across as kinda dodgy from the beginning, despite being given multiple opportunities and solo songs to win us over. The charming but deceptive Hans is supposed to be a foil to the Duke of Westleton, the fake villain, but also to Kristoff who’s rude and rough initially. Hans is supposed to disarm us before breaking our trust later.
I don’t know if it’s Ormson’s acting chops not quite matching up to the other three leads, or if the direction wanted him to be a bit more of an Obvious Villain, but in my book, but the reason Frozen is good is that it rings true and the people are real and flawed and deceptive, and Ormson’s oily Hans is quite jarring and unsettling to watch.
And the thing that I take from it, the thing I’m honestly reaching desperately towards-
Is that the reason Frozen is good, is that the characters have a depth and a loveability to them.
They are charming and funny, lonely and awkward.
The snowman loves warm hugs and he really loves you!
The bad guy isn’t who you expect it to be, the good guy becomes the good guy through love and trials- I can see that heart in this show, and I’m utterly compelled towards it. But, perhaps naively, I’m saddened and disheartened when it’s slicked in oil and stuck on with glitter.
Frozen is on at Theatre Royal Drury Lane. More info and tickets here.