Words: Jamie Tabberer; picture: Sven and Obioma Ugoala (Kristoff) - photo by Johan Persson Disney © Disney
'There is no sound more precious than the laughter of children'. That's roughly how the saying goes, right?
Well, whoever originated that statement obviously hasn't heard anything akin to the wild, squealing cackles of the junior theatre-goers when Elsa almost killed Anna in Frozen the Musical last weekend. That laughter was actually quite chilling. (See what we did there!)
Naturally, though, it's the kids' reactions - and their adorable costumes! - that made the trip to see the stage adaptation of the hit Disney film in London's West End worth it. Not least their collective gasp when Olaf the snowman first appears.
For my money, Olaf is one of the most annoying characters in the studio's history. So I was surprised to find myself charmed by Olaf as a flawlessly designed puppet, executed with a winning mix of discretion and assimilation by Craig Gallivan. I got second-hand stage fright from just thinking about how taxing his job must be.
Disney's Frozen - Craig Gallivan (Olaf) Photo by Johan Persson © Disney
It's also fascinating to watch the show through the kids' eyes. Their behaviour is much like an adult's, only more pronounced: locked in for familiar standards, like the still-joyful 'Love Is an Open Door', but fidgety and 'meh' for the new numbers, of which the Oaken-performed 'Hygge' is by far the best. (That said, the song effectively replaces a plot device that strongly hinted in the film that Oaken is gay, which is a huge shame.)
Naturally, the blockbuster 'Let It Go' - still powerful 10,000 listens later- closes out part one. It was thrilling to hear Danielle Fiamanya, a polished performer throughout, absolutely nail it. Elsewhere, Stephanie McKeon is the living embodiment of Anna, and her crystal clear singing voice eerily like Kristen Bell's. The impeccable costumes of both stars are dazzling.
Disney's Frozen - Stephanie McKeon (Anna) - photo by Johan Persson © Disney
Most of the show is indeed faithful to the film, while sweeping liberties - some necessary, owing to the restraints of the stage - occur elsewhere. These changes are hit and miss. Minor plot divergences, for example, which I won't spoil on the assumption some will be excited to discover them, felt alien for me.
Elsewhere, an animatronic Sven the reindeer is pure artistry straight out of Warhorse... but bears no resemblance to the character in the film. That worked for The Lion King musical, which committed to stylised abstraction 100%. But here, next to the precise reproduction of Olaf, it doesn't make sense. And while the delightful, pitch-perfect child actors playing a young Elsa and Anna work hard to create an atmosphere of awe and magic, the human-sized trolls demystify it.
Of course, all the world's staging talent combined could never duplicate the spine-tingling CGI of the films - so it's impressive how close they get. The interior of Elsa's glittering ice palace is an unforgettable highlight, as are the nerve-jolting effects used to portray Elsa's powers. Conversely, a mere trick of the light at the film's climax shows a frozen Anna to great effect.
Overall, it's too glossy and committed an effort to be dismissed as a shameless cash-in. But it still feels less than the sum of its parts.
For more information, visit frozenthemusical.co.uk.