Frozen the Musical's actor Jak Skelly (Oaken) shares more about being part of the West End production and his show-stopper song about Hygge.
It might surprise anyone who has seen the West End production of Frozen to learn that actor Jak Skelly, who plays hygge-loving shopkeeper Oaken, used to be painfully shy.
“I was probably the most shy child you could ever meet,” he says. “My mum was desperate to help me come out of my shell, and so one day when I was around six, she said ‘I’ve found these drama classes, and I think we should go’.”
His mum was right, and it proved to be a turning point. The Dupont Stage School in Leicester became a sanctuary where he discovered and nurtured his love of performance. “What started as a way of building my confidence soon became a passion, so I just kept going and I got more and more involved. I owe so much to them.”
At 18 he went to the ArtsEd drama school in London, and by 24 he was attending his first audition for Frozen, which would mark his West End debut. “The idea that I’ve gone from that shy six-year-old to being in the biggest show in the West End is just crazy,” he says.
“I love Disney... It’s been a massive part of my life, even more so as an adult.”
Frozen, which opened last August, was a show he felt he just had to be seen for. “I love Disney, I love it. It’s been a massive part of my life, even more so as an adult. I think the messages that come through in those stories are just so clear and enjoyable. Plus, I think right now people need the kind of feel-good escapism they offer more than ever.”
He says the experience of playing Oaken was made all the sweeter because of having to wait a year when the show was delayed due to the pandemic. “It was crazy having to wait for so long to open, but luckily the Disney team was so wonderful with us and really supported us all through it. I felt very lucky.”
It has also brought the actors even closer together. “The company is the most supportive, wonderful bunch of people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with,” he says. “There’s not one moment when we’re not laughing backstage. I really appreciate that that’s the environment I get to go to work in every day.”
As a character, Oaken on stage is much expanded from the Oaken we see on film. Notably, he has a big new song that opens the second act, celebrating all things hygge, the Danish art of enjoying life. Skelly concedes that before getting the role, he wasn’t overly familiar with the concept.
“Hygge is more of a feeling, a state of mind.”
“When I first performed the piece in auditions, I had to look it up,” he says. “But there isn’t really a dictionary definition of hygge. I remember being in a book shop and seeing a book on the shelf called ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ by Meik Wiking, which felt like a happy coincidence. I found it really interesting and helpful, and learnt that hygge is more of a feeling, a state of mind.”
As Oaken sings:
Hygge means comfortable
Hygge means cozy
Hygge means sitting by the fire with your cheeks all rosy
Hygge’s not scheduled
You can’t see where it starts or ends
Most importantly it can’t be hygge without your family and friends!
Skelly says that since playing Oaken on a daily basis he has learnt to appreciate the “small moments” that constitute hygge. “Last night for example, I got home after the show, put my lamp on and sat on the sofa watching TV. That was hygge because I was winding down. Having a coffee in the morning, going for walks – basically anything that makes you feel comfortable and happy can be hygge.”
It builds from a seemingly small number into an absolute show-stopper.
Ironically, performing the song itself is extremely physically demanding. It builds from a seemingly small number into an absolute show-stopper.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous, in the best way,” says Skelly with a smile. “I’m just running around the stage constantly, then all of a sudden – spoiler alert – I’m leading Anna on for a kick-line. It’s mad.”
It marks quite a mood change from the end of Act 1, when Elsa sings ‘Let it Go’. “It’s such a lovely bit of silliness to open the second half,” says Skelly. “I love it every night when I first hear the audience laugh, because I know they’re with me.”
He adds that being a member of the ensemble for the rest of the show, including playing the Bishop who crowns Elsa, helps him to warm up and stay focused for his big moment. “It really takes a lot of preparation, both mentally and physically. As soon as the curtain goes up, I’m basically talking and singing constantly for a good three minutes.”
But he relishes the high energy requirements of the role. After all, his heroes include Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly, who created some of the most frenetic dance routines ever seen on stage or screen. “For me, nobody really compares to them,” Skelly enthuses. “They were such icons, and major catalysts for male musical theatre performers.”
So, what advice would he give to someone hoping to follow in his high-kicking footsteps? “I think the most important thing is to be yourself and trust in your own abilities. Also, be kind, and have fun. Because this job should be fun, it shouldn’t be too serious. And finally, of course, make sure you have a lot of hygge in your life!”
Find out more about Frozen the Musical and secure your tickets today for West End performances up until October 2022.