Caroline Bowman and the Kinder Side of Elsa in Disney's Frozen

How the Broadway in Austin show finds the heart of the ice queen

"She's been a gift." Caroline Bowman as Elsa in the touring production of Disney's Frozen, coming to Austin June 5-16. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

If Elsa wasn’t Elsa, who would she be? Olaf, of course. Well, at least, that’s what Caroline Bowman thinks, and she should know.

After all, no one has played the part of the snow queen from the modern Disney musical classic more. Idina Menzel originated the part in the 2013 Oscar-winning fairytale, and Caissie Levy brought her to the stage for the original 2018 Broadway production, but Bowman has been letting audiences “Let It Go” since the touring production began at the Proctor's Theatre in Schenectady, New York, on Nov. 10, 2019. Since then, the show has had over 1,000 performances, and finally glides into Austin June 5-16 at the Bass Concert Hall as part of Broadway in Austin.

Across the tour she’s had plenty of time to watch the show from the wings, and one of her favorite parts is catching Olaf the snowman’s jaunty little ditty, “In Summer.” She explained, “I sing along with Olaf a lot, because it’s right before I have to go get set for ‘Let It Go.’ I’ve turned his song into a little bit of a jazzy song, and I’ve added my own little riffs. I think it would be really fun to sing ‘In Summer’ in a cabaret setting and turn it into a sexy jazz number.”

Caroline Bowman
Not that she’s thinking of setting aside Elsa’s crown and gown quite yet. “She’s been a gift to me,” Bowman said, and it’s not just about recreating the film. The stage version of Frozen contains instantly recognizable tunes from the original, like the chipper "Fixer Upper," the giggly "Do You Want to Build a Snowman?" and, of course, the Oscar-winning "Let It Go." But they account for only eight of the 24 songs in the stage show. However, Bowman noted that, in a rarity for such adaptations, the new material was written by the composers for the original film, Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, while the revamped book was written by film scriptwriter Jennifer Lee. “Anything that we’re saying or singing is created by the people that created these characters.” Plus, she laughed, those changes may be a relief to parents “whose kids have seen the movie a hundred times.”

Those additions include some of Bowman's favorite songs from the production, including the rocking “Monster” (as Bowman calls it, “Elsa’s 11 o’clock song”) and "I Can't Lose You," a new duet between Anna and Elsa that replaces the reprise of "For the First Time in Forever." In the film, the reprise comes "when Elsa's spiraling and Anna's trying to help, and they're just kind of talking over each other. Instead of that, they're having a conversation and talking to each other, but saying the same thing in different ways.”

Part of what makes “I Can’t Lose You” so special to Bowman is that she was part of its addition to the show. The reprise was part of the Broadway production and the initial touring version, but the producers realized “this piece isn’t really working, and it doesn’t really connect them. Let’s add a duet to the tour and see if we like it.” It’s rare for such changes to be made to a touring production of an established and successful musical, but now it’s a permanent part of the show. Bowman said, “It became our little piece of the Frozen puzzle that we got to add, and now it’s been added to every other Frozen production in the world.”

Of course, one of the most challenging parts of such a long tour is maintaining the norms of a home life, especially when it comes to her dog, a German shepherd named Kodak. When the tour first started, the pup came with her and her husband, Austin Colby, who was playing Hans. However, Colby left the production, most recently appearing in the Broadway cast of the new musical version of The Great Gatsby, so they split time with the dog. Bowman jokingly referred to them as co-parenting Kodak. “If Austin’s doing a job where he’ll be in a place for an extended time, he’ll take Kodak, and a lot of the tour has been on the East Coast for a while, so it’s easy for me to drive him around.”

"I just try to let my heart shine.” Caroline Bowman (l) on sharing scenes with Lauren Nicole Chapman as Anna in the North American touring production of Disney's Frozen. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

Even after all this time on the road, all these performances, singing “Let It Go” eight times a week, Bowman is still in love with playing Elsa. “She’s iconic, and people love her. I really take that responsibility seriously, and I really work hard to be the Elsa that everyone knows and loves.” However, after five years in the role, of trying to understand what Elsa is thinking at all times, she’s inevitably brought her own take on the character.

“A lot of my goal is to show her warmth," Bowman said. "She’s the ice queen, and it’s really hard to play a role that's dealing with anxiety for two hours, and it’s really hard to watch that for the audience. So I was like, ‘OK, everybody obviously loves Elsa because they’re already on her side. But how do I make her three-dimensional? How do I make her so people go, ‘I see what she’s going through and I feel for her?’” She found that in Elsa’s love for her sister. “When Elsa gets a chance to talk to Anna, it’s the best thing in the world, and I just try to let my heart shine.”

Yet that character development doesn’t change the central message of Elsa or the show. For Bowman, it is all about accepting and embracing yourself, a lesson summed up in “Let It Go.” She explained, “She’s releasing everything that’s been holding her back, and aren’t we all trying to do that? … It’s empowering young people, old people, all people, to be exactly who they’re born to be.”


Broadway in Austin presents Disney’s Frozen, June 5-16, Bass Concert Hall. Tickets at austin.broadway.com.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Frozen, Disney's Frozen, Broadway in Austin, Caroline Bowman

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