Actors often identify with their characters — partly to understand and advocate for the people they play. But for Caroline Innerbichler, the personal connection to Princess Anna of Arendelle in "Frozen" goes deeper. And that's not just because of the pandemic.
Anna comes out of cold storage after being frozen in place for a spell.
"Isn't that all of us now?" Innerbichler asked. "Anna is not clean and polished like other young ingenues I've played. She's frenetic and in-the-moment and sometimes puts her foot in her mouth. That could be seen as a character flaw but it's one of the most enchanting things about her. She's fully honest — an open book, no filter. I see myself that way, leading by emotion and sharing my truth."
Innerbichler is making her debut Saturday at the Orpheum Theatre in the national tour of the Disney blockbuster. But the Twin Cities native, who cut her theatrical teeth at the Children's Theatre, Chanhassen Dinner Theatres, the Ordway and Guthrie, is doing it circuitously.
She has glammed up for the now defunct Ivey Awards, which for years was held at the State Theatre across the street, and to see touring Broadway shows at the Orpheum. Now, she's glamming up as a Disney-ratified star onstage.
"It's going to feel like my opening night — coming back home to Minneapolis," she said.
Innerbichler has created a cheat sheet for her friends, including walks around the lake, art museums and the Sculpture Garden.
The musical is based on the 2013 Disney princess adventure film starring Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel as sisters Anna and Elsa. Snow Queen Elsa has the power to turn things to winter. It's up to Anna to break the wintry spell and save the queendom.
The film grossed nearly $1.3 billion. Innerbichler, who was then acting in "Fiddler on the Roof" at Chanhassen, went to see the movie immediately after a "Fiddler" show with friends, wearing her hair in two red braids with bangs, like Anna.
As Anna appeared onscreen, her castmates turned and looked at her.
"Uncanny," she thought.
That may have been some sort of sign but getting to play Anna was anything but a foregone conclusion. Innerbichler auditioned 14 times before beating out scores of actors to land the lead role.
The touring company began rehearsals in New York in September 2019. The musical launched its national tour in Los Angeles with a splashy opening and then proceeded to Seattle. That's when things shut down.
Innerbichler was in a hotspot, and not so much in a spotlight.
"Remember, the Pacific Northwest is where the pandemic first hit" the U.S., she recalled. "We had had a week of performances in Portland. We were really taken aback."
It was unclear what kind of timeline they would be on as officials thought the interruption would last a few weeks, then months. Some of the "Frozen" cast and crew who had been in hotels and Airbnbs decided to stay put. Innerbichler spoke with her mother from Portland after a week without shows.
"She said, 'Do you want to just come home to Minneapolis?'" the actor said. "I wanted to get home to my dog, Finna. She's a miniature Australian shepherd. She loved the pandemic. 'Hey, Mom's home every day.'"
The forced stoppage gave her time to think about her life. She could see the similarities between Anna and other characters she had played, like Sophie in "Mamma Mia!"
"Sophie has an objective and goes after it," Innerbichler said. "The entire plotline and all the other characters follow suit."
But unlike Sophie, Anna's passion is driven not by romantic love but by a care for family. In fact, that sets Anna apart from other Disney stories.
"She's fighting for a family member and providing unflinching support," Innerbichler said. "It's a much deeper story and show than one would expect. That's what I love about it. While you can be entertained by it with a lot of Disney magic and fairy tale, it's deeply human and very easy to dig in."
But the pandemic pause gave her a chance to air discomfiting questions.
"I had moments of doubt, like others, gosh, am I still good at this?" Innerbichler said.
When she got back onstage for the first time on Aug. 31, she felt grateful.
"I was like, wait, did any time pass?" she said. "It was like riding a bike. My muscle memory took over. My body knew the show and the words just started coming out of my mouth."
She hopes that friends and relatives in her hometown, not to mention fans, will feel the same joy and delight she has had with the show.
"We have been coming at this with our hearts fully open and beating with the rhythm of what this show means," Innerbichler said. "It's been healing for audiences that come and sit and breathe safely with the same community again. I hope it's a healing experience, especially for Minneapolis after the uprising. It was incredibly emotional watching my community come together in droves to give aid to the homeless. I'm hoping that after such a traumatic time, this is a moment of rest and healing and entertainment and magic. Let people laugh and cry and feel together again in the same room."
'Disney's Frozen: The Musical'
Who: Music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez. Book by Jennifer Lee. Directed by Michael Grandage.
Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls.
When: 8 p.m. Fri., 2 & 8 p.m. Sat., 1 & 6:30 p.m. Sun., 7:30 p.m. Tue.-Thu. Ends Oct. 20
Protocol: Proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test.
Tickets: $40-$95. 1-800-982-2787 or hennepintheatretrust.org.