Tag Archives: Michael Curry

“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 with this) 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 it 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