With 12 new songs, more than 300 over-the-top costumes and highly physical puppetry, Disney brings the North American tour of Frozen to Tampa. The Tony-nominated musical, which delivers a story of love and sisterhood, opens at 7:30 p.m. March 23 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts and runs through April 3.
“It’s a lot more than the Frozen everybody knows and loves. You get to know the characters deeper,” said Caroline Bowman, who portrays Queen Elsa.
In a telephone interview from the road of the Broadway touring company, Bowman explained that one song added to the show, I Can’t Lose You, delves deeper into the strength of love between two women, especially two family members.
“That song originated on this tour. You hear where each sister is coming from and where they are different. It shows a deeper relationship between the sisters,” she said.
As for staging, cool lighting and special effects turn the set into a winter wonderland. The sparkle of thousands of Swarovski crystals literally makes it shine. Bowman said a moment you don’t want to miss is when she transforms into Elsa’s iconic ice dress right before the audience’s eyes.
“It happens in one second. Don’t blink. I’m covered in thousands of crystals that make me sparkle. I feel beautiful in it. I become Elsa,” she said.
Frozen at times becomes a sing-along.
“Sing-alongs start and just dissipate because the show is so captivating. Let It Go starts. The audience starts singing. I smile inside and think, just wait. The sing-along stops. It’s just so intense and captivating,” Bowman said.
Judy Lisi, president and CEO of the Straz, agreed.
“There is nothing quite like the impactful experience of hearing Let It Go performed live on stage,” she said.
Puppetry plays a big part in Frozen. The puppet for Sven, the reindeer, is so physically challenging it requires two actors who perform one at a time inside the puppet on four stilts. They control the puppet’s blinking with their right hand and the ears with the left.
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The cuddly snowman Olaf is also a puppet, portrayed by actor, singer and puppeteer F. Michael Haynie, who just completed their 303rd performance in the role. Haynie explained in a phone interview how the current design of puppets and the actor interaction with the puppet promotes expressiveness.
Unlike Sven, Olaf is controlled from the outside. Haynie is dressed in white and performs behind the Olaf puppet to mimic its expressions.
“Olaf is designed beautifully. It has everything a puppet needs to be expressive. Audiences can gaze through Olaf the puppet and see me. When Olaf blinks, I blink,” Haynie said.
On a recent trip to Walt Disney World, Haynie said watching people interact with Olaf the character brought about a feeling of great pride and responsibility.
“Walking around Disney, seeing people interact with Olaf the character, I feel amazing being Olaf,” Haynie said. “I’m spoiled rotten. I get to be a goofy snowman every day. I have fun letting Olaf play, sing, change and grow. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a huge responsibility.”
Haynie said that, on stage, there can be a fine line between the character and the actor.
“I’m not supposed to exist. Actors are supposed to interact with Olaf the puppet. Every once in a while, an actor will react to me instead of the puppet. It makes me laugh I can trick a fellow actor into thinking I’m Olaf,” Haynie said.
The puppet-actor relationships are part of what Lisi finds to be the “magic” of live theater.
“Watching the interaction between characters such as Olaf and Sven with the other performers on stage is a part of the magic that audiences love about live theater,” she said.
One of Haynie’s favorite moments in the show takes place in the first 20 minutes in what the actors call “the May Pole scene.”
“That section is a celebration of life and love. It’s a beautiful moment. The ensemble just dances for their lives,” Haynie said.
COVID-19 has changed some procedures for the actors. Performers are unable to do meet and greets before or after the show, and Bowman said she misses the contact and appreciates feedback.
“When I have talked to people in the past, it was pretty powerful. Full-grown adults have met me sobbing after the show’s intensity,” she said.
Today, she welcomes interaction through social media and says she answers every response she gets via her Instagram account, @CarolineBowman5.
Bowman said the break from live theater due to the pandemic has made performances and audiences more intense.
“We are all so grateful to be back on stage. Everyone is putting their all into it. It’s a special time to go to the theater. COVID took something special away from us, and audiences are letting us know how much they appreciate it being back,” she said.
Frozen runs select afternoons and evenings through April 3 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. Tickets start at $35. Call 813-229-7827. Face masks are required in the theater for this show.