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Let It Snow: Frozen’s wintry transformation is just one of the tricks and treats of the stage show

Caroline Bowman as Elsa in Frozen North American Tour (Deen van Meer)

By Sharon Eberson

If your eyes glaze over when you see the title “production supervisor” in your theater program, here’s something that might make you wide-eyed instead: 

It is a production supervisor’s attention to detail that may be responsible for every harmonious moment of interaction among lighting, sound, costumes, scenery, technical wizardry – you name it, it’s on their checklist before the curtain goes up.

So, for example, when Elsa lets it all go with a split-second wardrobe change and wills an ice palace onto the Benedum Center stage, that big chunk of theatrical magic is thanks in no small part thanks to Lisa Dawn Cave, the production supervisor of Disney’s Frozen

Cave has been with the musical from its development right on through to Broadway and the worldwide touring companies, including the one that makes its Pittsburgh debut Oct. 5-16 at the Benedum Center.

Lisa Dawn Cave, production supervisor of Froz

Few know the intricacies of the show better than Cave, who also is production supervisor for The Lion King tour. Her wide-ranging credits include Fun Home, Shuffle Along, Rocky and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but these days she is fully entrenched with Disney’s theatrical arm, which will include one or two upcoming projects – Cave wouldn’t say which ones, but notes, “Some things have been announced.” (Hercules? Or Mulan, perhaps?)

That’s all speculation, and it’s Cave’s job to stay grounded when all around her might seem chaotic. Her current shows keep her quite busy in that regard. 

“I’m kind of intertwined in all the different elements, in different departments of knowing how things connect,” Cave said.

When asked what her job entails – or if it’s easier to say what it doesn’t – Cave first warns that her position is different from the production supervisor on any other show, say, a Hamilton or Jersey Boys.

“So this is just Frozen, right?

Right.

So here goes: She’s the go-to person in charge of mounting every production of Frozen, from London to Germany to Australia to North America. 

“This means I have to be the liaison and the communicator between the designers and the director, the choreographer, the musical supervisor, costumes, lighting …” 

The list goes on.

Cave coordinates not only how all of those things work together in one place, but in many. After designing a scheme with spectacular effects for specifically for Broadway’s St. James Theatre, Frozen had to be reconfigured not only for the road – the musical travels with 14 18-wheelers, just a few shy of The Lion King – but for the challenges of mounting the same show on a different stage every couple of weeks.

“You look at the different elements, the scenic elements, and you say to yourself, ‘What is this going to take to move it around?’ And if you saw Frozen on Broadway, you know there are these monster [icicle] spikes that came through the deck, through the floor. You can’t go around the country and rip up everybody’s deck for a two-week stay. So you have to rethink that. And when the director and the designer sit down to rethink that, I’m usually in that conversation, so I can flag things.”

Floor icicles were.a tricky effect to take on tour for Frozen,
starring Caroline Bowman as Elsa. (Deen van Meer)

That’s not to say there won’t be giant ice spikes. It’s just that they may arrive onstage in a different way.

The types of things that may trigger a red flag from Cave might be actor’s unwanted interactions with scenery – say, an object that might make it rough to navigate for the puppeteers who bring the characters of Olaf the snowman and Sven the reindeer to life.

The whole must serve the vision of director Michael Grandage, whose Broadway credits range from Frost/Nixon to Evita, in collaboration with choreographer Rob Ashford, the Tony Award winner and Point Park University alumnus.

“The choreographer and the director have to be on the same page, so they’re in constant conversation about what something should be and why it is happening that way and how it transitions into the scene. … Rob Ashford and Michael Grandage had a very strong partnership in how Frozen looks onstage,” Cave said. 

The look reflects the film, of course, but there are many differences. The trolls of the animated film, for example, have been reimagined as creatures from Scandinavian folklore.

Other changes to the show include a new song meant to focus the story even more on the relationship between the dynamic sister duo of Elsa and Anna (Lauren Nicole Chapman), with the new duet I Can’t Lose You.

Lauren Nicole Chapman as Anna sings For the First Time in the Disney stage version of Frozen. (

Their homeland, Arendelle, makes for some spectacular scenery, from a cozy palace playland to a treacherous winter wonderland.

Changes come swiftly, and differently than they did on Broadway. Production supervisor Cave refers to the up-down/in-out flight of large set pieces as, well, flying.

She estimated that 95% of “the things that fly in and out, were automated on Broadway,” but for the road, it has to be done manually.

“I had to change the timing, because I’m the one that knows the timing of how all that stuff came in during automation,” she said. “So what is that going to affect? Is that going to affect entrances and exits? Do people have to be more aware that has to be more rehearsed, because now you have a human being in every city that’s different that now has to learn or feel the music to time that thing? So I have to look into that and see, how do we do that?”

After reconfiguring the show from automated to manual for North American theaters, Cave then went to Germany for a fully automated sit-down production, so it was time for a new checklist and new challenges.

And so it goes.

Cave is very aware that there are a lot of little would-be Elsas and Annas and Olafs out there, perhaps dressed in their Halloweeen costumes for a theatrical treat, in the audience. Some details of the show are necessarily different than the animated Frozen movie that made it such a success. There is one indisputable quality the musical must have in common with the movie: It must still deliver on Disney magic. 

Collin Baja (Sven) and F. Michael Haynie (Olaf) in the North American Tour of Disney’s Frozen, coming to the Benedum Center Oct. 5. (Deen van Meer)

“The designers that we had were amazing,  of course, and it’s just working out the timing of all that to make sure it’s magical and you don’t actually see the [nuts and bolts] behind the transformation. It has to just happen,” Cave said.

All of the actresses who play icy Elsa – such as Caroline Bowman, a Penn State alum, on the tour coming to Pittsburgh – get a lot of individual rehearsal time, singing the iconic Let It Go as an ice palace takes shapee all around them.

“We have to make sure that she’s comfortable doing her craft and not having to worry about this actual transformation happening,” Cave said. 

The production supervisor won’t say how the ice palace appears in such short order or how it may differ from the Broadway version, which was eye-popping – some of the most seamless special effects ever delivered on a Broadway stage, along with practical effects. 

That show also includes a particularly memorable scene on a bridge. It’s Cave’s favorite, the one for which she catches her breath, despite knowing every detail of how it works.

“The transformation that happens from Arendelle into the ice world, to me is just amazing,” Cave said. “You know, you’re going from the castle, and then the next thing, you know, you see all this that Elsa doesn’t even know she’s making happen. Yeah. And when it finishes, you’re outdoors, on a snowy bridge that’s frozen. I just love it when that happens. And the audience is like, ‘Oh my God! We just came from a castle where it was sunny with nice clouds going by with a blue sky. And then all of a sudden, you know, you’re in an ice world!’”

She pauses.

“Yeah. That’s the one.”

For more info visit: https://trustarts.org/production/81539/frozen



Categories: Arts and Ideas, Show Previews

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3 replies

  1. When I saw Frozen, one of the ushers told me to really pay close attention during “Let it Go”. As in not blink or I will miss a moment I don’t want to miss- the usher was right- how does that quick change happen in like a second??? That was so magical to me and so many other moments

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