Tag Archives: Disney

“Frozen” at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Everybody knows what they are getting when Disney puts a show on stage. And that’s not just the story – in this case a fairy tale about a magical queen and her sister – and the songs, but what every scene will be. I’m not sure it’s the best introduction to theatre, but Disney does bring its films to the stage very well.

In the case of Frozen, the book, by the film’s writer Jennifer Lee, is sweet and has some surprises. This fairy tale focuses on two female leads and there’s some complexity in their characters. They make nice roles for Samantha Barks and Stephanie McKeon. And the romantic interest isn’t what you might expect – or maybe it is, Prince Charming has had a bad rep for a quite a while, after all. Regardless, there are strong supporting roles for Obioma Ugoala and Oliver Ormson (the latter very much a cartoon villain) that carry a moral well… if not lightly.

The songs, with music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, are simple but are effective: pleasant rather than memorable (though many younger fans are likely to disagree) but with a good mix of power ballads (which Barks does very well with) and waltzes. The latter are a nice touch. We want some old-fashioned costumes, after all, and Christopher Oram’s work here is lovely. The humour is better than might be expected, the snowman Olaf (Craig Gallivan, with puppet design from Michael Curry) has a good number.

Make no mistake that Frozen is a kids’ show to its core. So, for me, it’s the staging and the special effects, designed by Jeremy Chernick, that are the first highlight. Oram’s scenic design is impressive and Finn Ross’ video work adds immeasurably. The kids really do want to see the film on stage. There’s a superb reveal and, after that, the appearance of Elsa’s pig tail gets its own squeal of delight.

Rob Ashford’s engaging and inventive choreography

A quick pace is adopted by director Michael Grandage that hides potential dull moments. Rob Ashford’s engaging and inventive choreography is the second high point. Using the ensemble to create atmosphere or even suggest scenery – an especially strong moment – makes a nice contrast to high-tech touches. Frozen looks expensive and is sure to leave (younger) members of the audience breathless. For me, its genuinely theatrical touches are even more exciting.


Photos by Johan Persson

“The Lion King” at the Lyceum Theatre

Disney has detractors as well as fans, especially when it comes to the theatre. Stage productions based on movies often feel like money-making machines. Let’s just say that the shop is the first thing that greets visitors to The Lion King. Nonetheless, popular since its première 21 years ago (wow), the story of Simba’s coming of age and coming to power is a great show.

Not that there’s much to the story (even it it is inspired by Hamlet). Like the characters, who make pantomime look like Chekhov, what’s going on is really only for younger members of the audience. The humour is often tiresome. The goodie and the baddie, Mufasa and Scar, only have to show one dimension: current incumbents of the roles, Shaun Escoffery and George Asprey, do it very well. Our hero, Simba (Kayi Ushe), doesn’t so much come to greatness as have it thrust upon him. The only really interesting character is Nala who, as Janique Charles’ performance shows, should probably be the one in charge.

For all the hit songs from Elton John and Tim Rice, you don’t have to enthuse about the score to enjoy The Lion King. Anyway, the musical highlights really come from the choral arrangements by Lebo M.

So, The Lion King is a little like a musical in miniature. The plot, character and score are traditional but truncated. The story is simple, characters stripped back and none of the scenes or songs is very long. But there’s no doubt that the book, by Irene Mecchi, and direction, from Julie Taymor, know exactly what to do. Maybe that’s why children love it, yet all ages appreciate it? The show is confident and comforting.

Surely there is more to such incredible success? Yes. The dancing and puppetry impress all. Hugely complicated technically, the show is a collection of set pieces that are timed to perfection. Garth Fagan’s choreography is ambitious and creative and complements the puppetry designed by Taymor and Michael Curry perfectly. The costumes are justly iconic.

The Lion King delivers its magical moments whenever performers enter the stage or auditorium. Each new creature, filling the stage with colour and light, is greeted with joy. It is the production that wins praise and hearts – alongside the thrill of children seeing that theatre can be better than film. Disney does the stage proud.


Photo by Catherine Ashmore

“Aladdin” at the Prince Edward Theatre

Nobody does family entertainment like Disney. As this latest transfer from Broadway illustrates, their franchises cover all bases for a hit. Theatre is always a gamble, but it’s a safe bet that Aladdin will reap dividends, and someone has clearly put a great deal of money on it. With its many neon-coloured costumes and intricate sets (brilliant work by Gregg Barnes and Bob Crowley), this is a sumptuous night out. And that’s not to mention the magic carpet – with this budget they might have paid for a real one.

Adapted from the 1992 animation, Chad Beguelin’s book is a masterclass in moving movie to stage. It’s what people want and the show does exactly what it says on the tin lamp. Maybe it’s churlish (or naïve) but could they have been more adventurous? If I had one wish the film’s romantic theme, A Whole New World, would have been ditched despite its Oscar. It’s an uncharacteristically weak song from the impressive Alan Menken, who wrote the music here, working with Howard Ashman, Tim Rice and Beguelin on lyrics.

 Jade Ewen and Dean John-Wilson
Jade Ewen and Dean John-Wilson

The additional songs are good and, as they were cut from the original film, they fit well. The first couple of numbers are best, carefully fleshing out the main characters. Dean John-Wilson cuts a dash in the lead (although if you’ve heard his magnificent voice before you might feel he is underused) and Jade Ewen is a charming Princess Jasmine. Combine the strong performances and their opening numbers and the two leads escape from being cartoon characters. Other tunes are catchy, and clever, if functional rather than magical.

With Casey Nicholaw’s ruthlessly efficient direction and choreography there’s little time to pick holes. A breakneck pace defies boredom and there’s plenty of humour as well. The role of Aladdin’s chums, embraced by Nathan Amzi, Stephen Rahman- Hughes and Rachid Sabitri, is a good case in point: their number is good and the staging so exaggerated it might be better suited to a cartoon. But the whole thing is so invigorating, with the addition of some food-based puns, it takes your breath away.

Trevor Dion Nicholas
Trevor Dion Nicholas

Aladdin’s secret weapon is, of course, the Genie. It’s the same for this show. Travelling with the production is Trevor Dion Nicholas, a real high value pro: commanding the stage, directing the fun and guiding the pieces wry edge. Gleefully telling us when his “big production number” is coming up and pointing out “we don’t have time for self discovery”, Nicholas is the proverbial dream. Such a strong theatrical performance fulfils my wish for the show. Bravo.

Booking until 11 February 2017


Photos by Deen van Meer © Disney