For those taking in the spectacle that is “Frozen,” currently running at the Fox Theatre through Sunday, it’s perhaps an understatement to say Disney Theatrical productions have made great technological leaps forward since that computerized pyramid once wheezed hydraulic fluid onstage at the Alliance Theatre during the pre-Broadway run of “Aida” way back in 1998. Originally scheduled to premiere in Atlanta in January 2021 (the show was announced to great fanfare at a March 2020 Fox press event just before COVID lockdown), local audiences are finally being rewarded for their patience 16 months later. (Sadly, in the interim, the Broadway run of the show — which cost an estimated $35 million to mount on the Great White Way — did not survive the COVID lockdown and closed in March 2021 after 825 performances).
Currently, Disney Theatrical has five productions of “Frozen,” based on its hit 2013 animated film, running worldwide in London, Japan, Australia, Hamburg and the U.S. National Tour. And helping to oversee them all is production supervisor Lisa Dawn Cave, who has been with the show since its development shortly after the animated film achieved global box office success.
Between tour stops, Cave sat down with Eldredge ATL to discuss how the magic of “Frozen” gets put on stage each night for the wide-eyed little girls in the Elsa and Anna princess dresses and the little boys decked out in Olaf snowman outfits.
“I have friends who ask, ‘How can you work on one show for years and years and years and not get bored?,’” says Cave with a laugh. “And honestly? I don’t. Whenever we move it into a new country or on this national tour, you’ve got to figure out how to do it all over again. How do you put it together?”
With the show’s mammoth projection screens, LED lights, strategically placed hoses for dry ice-like atmospheric effects, a life-sized moving Sven reindeer, the tens of thousands of Swarovski crystals and enormous set pieces like that iconic icy footbridge Anna and Kristoff fight/flirt/sing on, “Frozen” is every bit as technically challenging to put on stage as “Aladdin” and “The Little Mermaid.”
“We have tech people who go out to survey the theaters to see if they can accommodate the show,” Cave explains. “And when the show is on the road, we have another advance team that goes out ahead of the tour stop to figures out logistics. We ask questions like: If we have four banners, can we hang all four or only two? Is the stage deep enough for the ensemble to do quick-changes? Can the cast go upstage in a particular scene or do we need them to go downstage instead? We have folks who work on that constantly throughout the tour.”
Miraculously, all of that Disney magic somehow fits on the 1929 Fox Theatre stage, a stage that is more shallow than other theaters “Frozen” is playing on across the country. (When the first national tour of “Miss Saigon” played Atlanta in the early 1990s, notably, it had to be staged at the Atlanta Civic Center because the Fox stage couldn’t accommodate the show’s trademark set piece — a helicopter).
So how many semi-trucks does it take to transport the massive show from city to city? “Oh my lord, it’s wild!” concedes Cave with a chuckle. She grabs her tour notes and shares that the show travels in three 53-foot tractor trailers for advance work and there are three semis alone for all of the Disney-related “Frozen” merchandise available in the lobby at each performance to tantalize tots. It takes a total of 16 trucks to transport the entire show from city to city.
Meanwhile, Cave and her crew had to reimagine some of “Frozen’s” scenes for the National Tour in order to make them work on the road. “On Broadway, because the show was set and it didn’t move, you could do certain things, you could have certain elements come through the floor, for example,” she says. “For the tour, you have to completely rethink the show because you can’t come in and basically destroy the basement of every theater!”
One scene “Frozen” tech wizards had to solve on the road? “Monster,” the number late in Act Two when Hans and his men are coming for Elsa and she protects herself with massive jagged ice spikes. “In New York, we had spikes that came through the floor that were on a turntable,” explains Cave. “But on tour, the challenge was how do you get those ice spikes in without destroying the theater? We had to rethink that. So we put them on pallets so they come from stage left and stage right. The choreographer, the lighting designer and the director had to rethink all of that. How do we create that same feeling — Elsa protecting herself and threatening the soldiers — while delivering that same level of intensity for the audience.”
Likewise, the fan favorite “What Do You Know About Love?” scene atop that icy footbridge required teaching actors Lauren Nicole Chapman, who plays Anna and Mason Reeves, who portrays Kristoff, some fancy new footwork for the national tour. “Believe it or not, we have three different versions of that footbridge,” says Cave. “We had the Broadway version that flew in, we have this tour version that moves around and we have a completely different bridge that was designed just for our London show. On Broadway, when they were on the bridge, Anna and Kristoff fell through a hole and were brought back up. For the tour, they’ve restaged it so Anna climbs up the bridge and there is an illusion of the bridge being very icy and the characters are trying to remain on this very slippery bridge. It’s different choreography. We couldn’t have a flying bridge for a traveling show because that bridge takes up a lot of real estate in the air!”
Thankfully, one scene that did not need to be adjusted for the tour was Elsa’s gasp-generating “Let It Go” number, unforgettably performed by Caroline Bowman on the national tour, that closes Act One. “The ice dress is the ice dress wherever you see the show,” says Cave. “There are approximately 44,154 stones and crystals on the ice dress.”
During the show’s stage development, it took Disney Theatrical tech wizards months to figure out how to translate Elsa’s iconic moment in the number from the animated film (originally created on a computer) into something human beings could achieve live onstage.
“We spent a lot of special time and care on it,” reflects Cave. “That’s as far as I can tell you. There was a lot of time spent making that moment as breathtaking as is it. And then, you have to teach it to Elsa and our fabulous stage crew responsible for doing it at each performance.”
Cave says sitting in the house in each new city seeing “Let It Go” feels like she’s experiencing it for the first time, even all these years later. “It’s unbelievable,” she says. “It’s the ultimate Disney magic and I can’t tell you how it’s done. But I can tell you this — it doesn’t matter what city the show plays in, the audience reaction is always the same. It’s like your breath is just taken away from you.”
Disney’s “Frozen: The Hit Broadway Musical” plays at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre through Sunday. For tickets and more information, visit the Fox Theatre website.
Richard L. Eldredge is the founder and editor in chief of Eldredge ATL. As a reporter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Atlanta magazine, he has covered Atlanta since 1990.