Don’t let it go! Load cells and the set of London’s latest musical

Published On: September 22 2021

To the delight of a whole new generation, the much-loved animated film “Frozen” is now a West End musical. Originally staged on Broadway in 2018, “Frozen” the West End musical finally slid into London this year, with the truly magical costumes and set created by British theatre designer Christopher Oram.

High tech set design

For those of us accustomed to painted backdrops and flying scenery, this production is a revelation in how technology has transformed the way both stage shows and live gigs are presented. Exit cloth and canvas, enter LED lights and projectors, video walls and computers.

As designer Christopher Oram said in an interview with Yahoo! News:

“Scenery remains scenery, but the video and the lighting equipment is changing so fast. Even by the time we take the show to London, the video technology we use here (on Broadway) will almost be obsolete. It moves that rapidly.”

Load cells in a supporting role?

So where do load cells fit into this every-changing stage picture, as the castle and land turn to ice before the audience’s very eyes? We don’t have any actual figures, but we would guess pretty much everywhere in the show’s London home at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane.

Let’s start with the back of the stage, a giant video wall that in London weighs three tonnes and contains over 4.5 million LEDs. We’d guess that load cells are monitoring the load on the rigging and structure that holds this hefty (and expensive) wall in place. In a revealing time lapse video of the set construction for the London show, below, you can see it being gently lowered into place.

Enter the ice

Central to the stage design are four 7-metre tall Fjord Ice Legs that glide onto the stage. These translucent shards act as both projection walls and also have their own LED panels on the reverse. That’s a lot of potential weight to slide at speed.

There are also fifteen transparent ice shards that rise up through the stage through ‘traps’ in the double-ring rotating stage. As Broadways stage manager Lisa Dawn Cave explains:

“(These) can go single or they can go all at the same time; we’ve choreographed them to do both. And they also spin! Once they’re up, this outer turntable will spin, and all the men are in the center of the turntable as if they are trapped.”

If you watch the behind the scenes video at Yahoo! , you’ll see just how fast these shards shoot up – (fast forward to 6 mins in).

Eco-friendly LED projectors

There are 19 state of the art LED projectors; on Broadway, only six were over the stage, with the remainder on the ceiling of the theatre. Load cells would probably have been used to test that the points in the ceiling could take the load, and may well be there monitoring them too.

For London, the proscenium arch that frames the stage has LED video tiles built in, and weighs in at a substantial 6,000kgs. Again, we suspect load cells were involved in testing the ability of the stage to withstand that weight.

All effects on stage are controlled by no less than 32 computers, stored under the stage. According to Broadway’s show electrician Asher Robinson,

“There are computers that are just in charge of the LED back wall, there’s a group of eight computers that just do all the LEDs inside the scenery, and there’s a group of nine computers that hold all of the media files, all the movie files, and the projected images.”

That’s probably a lot of weight (and heat) from expensive hardware in a London theatre which opened in 1812. Now owned by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the theatre has been home to some of the biggest musicals of the last 50+ years, including “Miss Saigon”.

Look up…

In the London stage set time-lapse video above, the extensive front-of-stage rigging is also revealed, and also the moveable elements of the staging including bridges, crystal curtains, “ice” stairs. At 0:27, you get to see the lighting rig being hung with lights at stage floor height and realise just how much is hanging above the performers, just as in a major rock gig.

With so much kit hanging about, so to speak, there will be extensive load monitoring in place to ensure the safety of everyone on stage and offstage too. Not to mention keeping tabs on the structure of the historic theatre that houses what is surely set to be a very long-running musical indeed.

Load cells for your next production

If you’re planning a blockbusting new stage musical, mega rock gig or astounding outdoor event, we have the load cells to measure, monitor and make sure every load bearing structure is up to the job. And if you just need a single load cell for a special project, our online shop has a wide selection to choose from, all delivered from our UK base here in Reading, Berkshire.