The West End musical Frozen, the story of an ice queen and her fearless sister that captivated a generation, has dominated the only major theatre awards decided by public vote.
But the lavish production lost out in the category of best new musical to Back to the Future: The Musical, an adaptation of the hit 1985 film about a young man forced to set up his parents after being accidentally sent 30 years back in time.
At a ceremony at the Prince of Wales Teater in London on Sunday evening, the veteran actor Sir Ian McKellen received an award for services to theatre in recognition of his seven-decade career, with performances ranging from Richard III to Widow Twankey.
McKellan, who performed a one-man show in venues across the UK for his 80th birthday tour in 2019, was honoured for raising more than £1m for theatre charities and arts organisations.
The 22nd WhatsOnStage awards were a “testament to the brilliance and resilience of an industry, who even in the bleakest moments of the past two years kept faith and kept going”, said Sarah Coleman, the website’s commercial and development director.
Frozen, described by the Guardian as a “stunning musical extravaganza … packed with visual thrills and gorgeous choreography”, won seven awards.
Based on the Oscar-winning Disney film made in 2013 – which was inspired by Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, The Snow Queen – it tells the story of estranged sisters Elsa and Anna and a kingdom trapped in eternal winter. Its signature ballad, Let it Go, has become an anthem for millions of children around the world.
The stage musical opened at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane last September after a delay caused by the Covid pandemic, and was playing to sellout audiences. Maar, like many West End shows, it was forced to cancel pre-Christmas performances when Covid hit members of the cast and crews.
It won awards for best direction, set design, costume design, choreography, video design, musical direction or supervision, and graphic design.
As well as best new musical, Back to the Future received three further awards for best supporting performer in a male identifying role in a musical for Hugh Coles, lighting design and sound design.
WhatsOnStage has changed the titles of the acting categories “to represent everyone within the theatre community”. “These are first steps as we evolve the awards in the coming years to truly make them fully inclusive,” het 'n woordvoerder gesê.
Eddie Redmayne, the Emcee in Cabaret, won best performer in a male identifying role in a musical, and Carrie Hope Fletcher, who plays the title part in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella, won best performer in a female identifying role in a musical.
Anything Goes won best musical revival, and a second award went to Carly Mercedes Dyer for best supporting performer in a female identifying role in a musical.
Best new play went to 2:22 A Ghost Story, and best play revival was won by Cyrano de Bergerac. Rent, at the Hope Mill theatre in Manchester, won best regional theatre production.
Coleman said: “The breadth of talent honoured today, in the first major theatre awards to return in full post pandemic, demonstrates that theatre is back, and then some.
“Today we also honour the audiences who stuck with us, and have voted this year in numbers never seen before. We’re nothing without them, and we are enormously grateful for their unwavering support. Together we build our industry back.”