Did critics melt for Frozen's West End premiere?
The show had its press night last night
Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage
"In the centre of all this busy action, of course, are Stephanie McKeon and Samantha Barks. Barks' is a beautiful Elsa, the crystal clarity of her voice cutting through the soaring "Let It Go", but also bringing a tender wistfulness to songs such as "Dangerous to Dream". McKeon is terrific fun, her wide-eyed Anna coloured with exactly the right sense of adventure and determination. Together the sisters – who now have a song where they reflect their feelings for each other – power the show, bringing warmth to its frozen heart. Which is exactly as it should be. It isn't art, but it isn't a cartoon either."
"Michael Grandage and his team – designer Christopher Oram, and lighting designer Neil Austin – have thrown every theatrical trick in the book at the show to make it come to theatrical life, and a lot of it sticks. The opening scenes where the inseparable young princesses Elsa and Anna (charming Tilly-Raye Bayer and lively Asande Masike) are torn apart by Elsa's magical powers are fluidly and energetically staged, with warm yellow lights bathing a medieval palace.
Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
"Christopher Oram's set design bears layers of visual effects, from a back screen of sky that conjures a perpetual swirl of the Northern Lights and an intricate grid of snowflakes. A central costume change – when Elsa is turned from a dutiful royal in robes to shimmering ice queen, dressed in white – brings gasps from adults as well as children in the audience.
"The messages at this story's core may be typically saccharine Disney ones – that it is vital to embrace your own magic and that love can thaw the coldest of hearts – but they are nevertheless true and important for the army of young Elsas and Annas out there."
Patrick Marmion, Daily Mail
"The fairy tale castle in the imaginary Nordic land of Arendelle has stained-glass windows opening on to panoramic mountains struck alternately by the Northern Lights and 3D projections of swirling snowstorms – not to mention an incredible 70ft ice bridge that later rolls across the stage.
"Our heroine Elsa (Samantha Barks), who is cursed by an anti-Midas touch that turns everything to ice, sees her cloak fly from her back and snowflakes leap from her fingers.
"But when her dress changes in a flash to a pale blue sequined gown, as she conjures up her ice palace refuge all alone, she was almost sucked from the stage by a collective gasp from the audience – acknowledged by Barks with a cheekily satisfied grin."
Clive Davis, The Times
The first thing to say about Grandage's elegant production, in fact, is that it has a tad more emotional depth than the film, which was a bland, Barbie Doll-like confection with little of the verve of the Toy Story franchise. Grandage's version of Hans Christian Andersen's story The Snow Queen hasn't forgotten how to target its core demographic — this is definitely one of those shows where all grown-ups should be accompanied by a minor. Yet Jennifer Lee's book, and the additional songs by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, are witty enough to hold the attention of those of us who are looking for more than a fairytale romance."
"The gloriously renovated Theatre Royal auditorium, on which Andrew Lloyd Webber, the proprietor, has lavished £60 million, becomes part of the spectacle too: you feel as if you are sitting inside a jewel box as the proscenium arch turns into a glittering frame of ice."
Tim Bano, The Stage
"Barks dominates things with her reserved authority, McKeon simply by taking up space, but despite their polar opposite approaches their voices are wonderful complements to one another. That becomes clear early on when they sing For the "First Time in Forever". By the time we reach the climax, it's clear we are not in a land of doing things by halves.
"Austin lights the show like a Disney animation come to life, his palette ultra colourful, with big bright changes between the rich warmth of Arendelle and the glacial blues of Elsa's ice palace. White and blue lights flare and crackle for Elsa's freezing powers, from twinkling LEDs to full, dazzling washes."
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out
"Adults will note that it's more serious, sadder and wiser than the film. Some New York critics didn't seem to be entirely happy with this when it opened on Broadway in 2018, criticising it for being dour. But I liked Grandage's more melancholy spin, which is written by the film's screenwriter and director Jennifer Lee, with new songs (and old songs) from the film's songwriters Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. To be clear, the talking snowman and the goofy reindeer are still in it, but it does land a bit differently.
"In particular, it feels like less of an ensemble piece and more focused on the relationship between Samantha Barks's troubled, sensitive Elsa and Stephanie McKeon's loveable goofball sister Anna. There's more about their lives in the royal palace where they grew up, first as best friends, and then kept separate by their over-protective parents after Elsa's growing magical powers almost kill a six-year-old Anna."
Ava Wong Davies, The Independent
"This stage adaptation of Frozen is intended to feel as comforting and familiar as one of Olaf's warm hugs. It wants to maintain what it is that made its source material so wildly successful in the first place, and the best way to do that is, essentially, a 1:1 recreation of the film, down to Elsa's iconic sparkling blue dress (revealed in a sleight of hand so good that the stage managers should receive a raise for pulling it off every night)."
"Frozen is pure product by this point, if you couldn't tell by the soft toys being touted by the ushers in the interval: immaculately executed, yes, but with the undeniable air of a well-oiled theme park ride."
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
"The Act One "Let It Go" climax has a standalone Samantha Barks (chilly-composed as Elsa, in contrast to warmer-spirited Stephanie McKeon as Anna) see first a glove then her cape fly off, before hey-presto, getting an instant wardrobe make-over in keeping with her twinkly new-build palace. It's the gasp-aloud pinnacle.
"After that, the piece flip-flops between generic grandiose angst and cutesy comedy. The latter is afforded by the openly puppeteered Olaf (the chatterbox snowman), the frankly adorable reindeer Sven (with agile operator encased within) and a bizarre knees-up number (Hygge) involving a chorus-line of faux-scantily-clad sauna-users that skates over the vital jeopardy afflicting frozen Arendelle."
Sam Marlowe, The i
"Barks has a beautiful, crystalline voice, and she's forced to compete, in the make-or-break "Let It Go", with a blizzard of special effects, including an astonishing mid-song costume change: it's impressive, but it undercuts the song's emotional impact.
"Anna's rival love interests – Oliver Ormson's oily Prince Hans and Obioma Ugoala's down-to-earth ice-trader Kristoff – supply sterling support, as do scene-stealing puppet versions of comic-relief snowman Olaf and Kristoff's reindeer Sven, beguilingly frisky, liquid-eyed and twitchy-eared."