Caroline Bowman is an American theatre actress who has played Broadway roles from Elphaba to Evita, and is currently portraying Elsa in Disney’s tour of FROZEN, on display from today until the end of April at the Orpheum.
Coincidentally she and I have a few things in common (we were a year apart in high school and both theatre kids growing up, performing at a young age.) And as it turns out we both happen to play Elsa! Bowman of course has her name in lights, (I’ve graced the stage at Vala’s Pumpkin Patch once or twice,) but universally I’d like to think we are cohorts. As one could guess, filling the shoes of the iconic ice queen is no small task, and a huge honor to bring to life one of the most beloved characters that far and wide has reached adoring fans. I had the privilege to chat with her and learn about her take on performing, vocal techniques, and what it’s like to bring Elsa to life.
How did you get your start in musical theatre?
I started very young. I had a mom and a grandmother who just loved musical theatre. I remember as a kid watching old movie musicals with my grandmother in her bed like “Anchors Aweigh,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” and “Meet Me in St. Louis.” I used to listen to musicals from the very start. My mom used to perform in community theatre a lot growing up so instead of getting a babysitter I would go and watch her perform. I think I saw how much joy it brought her so I started doing it with her. I grew up in Maryland and I started doing dance classes really young and voice lessons, and choir. From the start I was kind of a theatre kid.
What led you in the direction of your career and what was your training experience like?
I went into high school knowing I wanted to go to college for musical theatre. I knew I wanted that, and I needed those four years to grow up. I wanted the college experience and Penn State was a good fit for me because I could have the balance of that with a super focused conservatory feel. It was everything I could have wanted in a college experience. Then I met my family, my best friends at Penn State. They had a very small program, I only had 12 people in my class. So we kind of saw each other through it all. It was really neat to have that small of a program. I left school my senior year at Thanksgiving, and I went to China to do the international tour of Fame, so I started my career early. I was getting some good traction, so I’ve been working ever since when I graduated college in 2010. I guess that was kind of my greenlight that you can actually have a career in this.
Do you have any tips and tricks to achieve your impressive belt and wide range?
I have hundreds of voice warm ups on my phone and I label them. I pick the voice warm up for what I’m feeling that day. I have a vocal straw that’s like a different vocal warm up to get “back pressure.” I grew up in choir and have always been a soprano, and I studied classically first. All my favorite singers I was listening to, Barbara Streisand, Patti LuPone, and Sutton Foster- I listened to them and emulated them. I have never stopped taking voice lessons. I take voice lessons every two weeks, I get a lot of sleep, and I’m always thinking of what I need to do to keep my voice in check. As I’ve gone further into this career I have done more “belty,” I guess you could call it, mezzo soprano range [roles]. I’m constantly stretching my voice and balancing it out. You can’t really have one without the other in a healthy way, in my opinion. It’s like working out. You have to stretch your muscles. You can’t just dive into a marathon; you have to train for it. I think of myself as an athlete and the work never stops. Even though I have muscle memory after playing Elsa for so many years, I warm up for every single show. I will never just go into it cold turkey.
When did you first know you wanted to play Elsa?
I started auditioning for Elsa for the tour in 2018, and then booked it 6 months later in March of 2019. I knew I really wanted to play Elsa pretty immediately. I was actually in the movie as part of the singing troll chorus. All the women in Kinky Boots were asked to sing in the movie. It’s been a part of my life for so long. I love Elsa, I really dig her. She’s so complex-she’s like this belting diva, (there she is, there’s my Disney princess!) I was really drawn to her and I fell in love with her. I had my eye on Elsa for a while, playing her is a really special role to play. Vocally it fits what I do pretty well. I get to sing these glorious songs, so that’s really special to be able to sing that every day. And then her costumes are just amazing!
The character of Elsa is such a strong woman, do you identify with her on a personal level?
I feel like as I’ve gotten older I’m trying to do less apologizing for who I am. I feel like Elsa really has helped me become stronger in my opinions-in what I want for my life, how I want to live my life. I think I’ve learned a lot from her. It’s about overcoming and stepping into your own and figuring out how to celebrate what makes you unique, and releasing some of that trauma that holds you back in life. I lost my sister when I was three and didn’t get to grow up with a sister in my life. It’s been this transformative experience on a personal level. I have this connection with my sister, the whole show is dedicated to her. I feel her around me when I’m doing this, it’s very magical. I’m super connected to the sister story and that love and yearning to have that connection with your sister. I think I have infused that into my Elsa performance. It’s been a real honor to play her and then also to just add my sister to the mix in this specific way is like nothing that I’ve experienced in my career. It’s a really beautiful way to do that with my artistry; it’s been really healing.
Favorite moment in the show?
We added a new song in Act 2 called “I Can’t Lose You.” It’s in replace of the “First Time and Forever” reprise in the movie. You finally get a chance to just have the two sisters have kind of a quiet moment alone together. And of course, Elsa gets overwhelmed because she can’t handle it and she’s never been taught how to feel her feelings. The song is beautiful and it’s really a special addition that the music writers Kristen and Bobby Lopez added for the tour. We got to originate the song, record it, and we are the originators of the song. We got to recreate Frozen for the road which ended up being the Frozen that’s all over the world. That’s another honor I did not expect with this show.
Which of the Frozen movies are your favorite?
There is a little special, “Once Upon A Snowman,” that’s ten minutes long and it’s how Olaf was created within Elsa’s magic. They go into the backstory of Olaf and it’s brilliant. I love that intricacy because she creates Olaf out of love-he is a little bit of Anna and a little bit of Elsa. She accidentally does that because she loves her sister so much. I’m so obsessed with all of it which is probably why I can’t stop playing this role! Frozen 2, it came out right at the beginning of the tour, so we all got to watch it as a cast. And I felt like oh my gosh, this is so cool because it can further and form how I play Elsa. She’s free, everybody knows she has magical powers but she’s not full yet, she still doesn’t quite know where she belongs. It’s so nice to have those movies to inform that and you don’t always get that when you’re doing a new musical. We have such great source material to pull from. It’s sort of a Disney show about mental health. I want to honor what kids and adults are coming to see after falling in love with these movies and put my own stamp on it.
Big arts advocate here. How important is it to support the arts and the theatre community?
Art is transformative and specifically theatre. Going to the theatre and having a live experience, there’s nothing like it. Especially after the last couple of years we’ve all had, gathering together in the same room and having that experience, storytelling, it’s more important now than ever. Theatre is reinvigorated after having all that time off and we’re grateful. We know we’ve had it taken away from us in such an intense way. I don’t take any moment for granted. Every day I get to go to work and do this is a gift and I am thankful every day.
Any fun facts to leave with your fans?
I managed my wrestling team in high school, I played every sport. That’s kind of how I approach theatre, it’s very much a sport to me and I treat it that way. I went from a rock troll to Elsa, so you can too!