Caissie Levy: 'Frozen,' family and Feinstein's
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In the depths of the New York winter, Caissie Levy will be defrosted.
On February 16, the actress who originated the role of Elsa in the theatrical adaptation of Disney's Frozen during its 2017 trial run in Denver —and has continued to play the princess of Arendelle over the first two years of the show's blockbuster Broadway engagement— will leave the production. Patti Murin, who has played her sister, Anna, since the beginning, will step down simultaneously.
Bay Area audiences can preview the thaw as Levy, now on a working vacation, brings a mix of backstage stories and folk-pop arrangements of theater songs to Feinstein's at the Nikko on October 25 and 26.
"It's been the most fulfilling job of my career in many ways," the Ontario-born actress says of playing Elsa. "But I do crave counter-balance. It will be nice to get away from the eight-shows-a-week grind for at least a little while."
Prior to Frozen, Levy, 38, has been on Broadway, London and national tour productions of shows including Hairspray, Hair and Ghost. And in a classic showbiz-as-small-world coincidence, she's played both Maureen in Rent and verdant-visaged Elphaba in Wicked, both roles originated by Idina Menzel, who voiced Elsa in the original animated Frozen.
And, like Menzel, who is essentially obligated by social contract to sing "Let It Go" at every concert she gives for the rest of her life, Levy recognizes that once frost-bitten, you can never shy away from Elsa.
"This is going to sound really corporate and cliché," she acknowledges, "But you become an ambassador for Disney. It's a great company to work for and I'm in the Disney family now. It's something you hope becomes a long-term relationship."
Contrary to what some might expect, Levy says that she was given significant latitude in developing Elsa for the stage rather than being asked to closely match the animated character.
"Fortunately, there's a lot of new material that isn't in the movie worked into the show, including big songs that give Elsa more of a backstory. The movie is really Anna's story, so there was freedom for me to develop this character."
During the development process, new songs, which Levy will include in her Feinstein's sets, were specifically crafted to showcase her vocal strengths by composers Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Bobby Lopez.
"To be honest," says Levy, "there was much more freedom in creating this character, which started as a more limited role in an animated film, than in playing my part in Ghost, which people automatically compared to Demi Moore."
Levy says that she and Murin, her sister princess and closest Disney relative, will end up collaborating further in the future, perhaps in performances reminiscent of the shows mounted by Alice Ripley and Emily Skinner after being co-nominated as best actress for playing Siamese twin sisters in 1997's Tony-nominated Sideshow.
"It made sense for Patti and I to leave Frozen together," says Levy. "We created these roles together and built a real friendship and chemistry. It's sort of a package deal."
The most intriguing familial relationship that's developed over the course of Levy's run in Frozen is the one between herself, her character and her son Izaiah (with husband David Reiser), who will be four when his mother's Broadway run ends. Izaiah lived most of his conscious life with little clear border between mama and Elsa.
"I think about this all the time," Levy acknowledges. "We don't give him much access to screens, and I don't know if he really has any sense of what it means that I'm an actor. I've just been his mom and Elsa for his whole life, those are the only two roles he's known me in and I'm not entirely sure he knows that we're different, or that I will be playing other parts."
Levy offers up one particularly fascinating detail of this conundrum that feels like the seedling for a musical (or Halloween-season movie) of its own: "Izaiah sleeps with an Elsa doll."
And that brings the article full circle, so we'll 'Let it go.'
Caissie Levy at Feinstein's at the Nikko, 222 Mason St. October 25 and 26, 8pm. $60-$95 ($20 food/drink min.) www.feinsteinsatthenikko.com