The Broadway adaptation of Frozen has welcomed a new Elsa, Anna, and Hans to the musical, beginning February 18 and Ciara Renée, who took over the role of Elsa, has brought pure magic to the stage.
Renée has previously seen on Broadway as the Witch in Big Fish, and as the Leading Player in the revival of Pippin, as well as the Off-Broadway productions of The Wrong Man and Tick, Tick,…Boom!. The Knockturnal sat down and spoke with her about stepping into her new role, the path that led her there, and her advice for future stars in the making.
The Knockturnal: How did you get the role of Elsa and how did you find out?
Ciara Renée: My agents sent me in. I think they’d been looking for a little while for an Elsa and were not finding what they were looking for. When they heard I was in town, they were like, “Hey would you want to come in for this?” So then I did.
The Knockturnal: And had you seen Frozen before?
Ciara Renée: Yes, I actually saw it back in previews two years ago, so things had changed, but even then I was blown away by the magic of it.
The Knockturnal: What’s your favorite thing about playing Elsa?
Ciara Renée: I think it’s the arc that she takes, you know? I think at all times she’s wanting to break out of this shell and wanting to be herself but just not knowing how, and believing that it’s wrong or dangerous to do that. We see her taking these little steps forward and then something always goes wrong or not the way that she expects it to. And I totally understand that and feel it in my own life. I think everyone does as we’re all growing into who we are and taking those little steps of, “Can I be this way?” “Is this ok?” And then toward the end she really is fully in her power and feels good about what’s happening.
The Knockturnal: What was your acting experience before Frozen?
Ciara Renée: So I made my Broadway debut in 2013. I did Big Fish and then took over for Patina Miller in Pippin, and I’ve done Off-Broadway as well.
The Knockturnal: How does it work preparing for the role?
Ciara Renée: For prep, obviously we have rehearsal periods. This was an interesting one in that we were rehearsing and teching with the entire cast, which is not normal. Normally, when you’re replacing someone, you get around two weeks to rehearse by yourself in a studio without anybody else, and then the week before you go on you get a final big rehearsal with everybody. We were very lucky in that we got two big rehearsals with all the elements and we got to tech and work with everybody, so that really helped.
When I was stepping into Pippin, it was just me and Kyle Dean Massey, and so we were just in a room together, you know rehearsing this crazy show without any of the circus. So Frozen was a really nice soft intro, being able to meet everyone, and it’s a very big cast so it was nice to actually get to spend some time with everyone. And obviously spending time with Ryan and McKenzie was great and we all clicked immediately, which was a blessing.
The Knockturnal: How do you protect your voice when your’e singing eight nights a week?
Ciara Renée: You train for that, you know? You try to create a good enough foundation of correct singing, and you have to build up the endurance, which I still feel like I’m building.
The Knockturnal: Do you have any advice for anyone who wants to be on Broadway in the future? Did you always want to do this?
Ciara Renée: I always wanted to be a singer and a performer, I knew that. I had been singing my whole life but I didn’t know Broadway was a thing until high school. I had no idea it was a career path, I had never even seen a Broadway show.
The Knockturnal: Where did you grow up?
Ciara Renée: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania so not super far from here, but I hadn’t ever been to New York until I was 13 and that was for a choir trip- we were singing in a cathedral somewhere and again, I didn’t see a Broadway show and didn’t even know it was a thing. So it wasn’t until I was in high school that I knew it was actually possible and I just fell in love with it. I loved being able to be someone else and tell these interesting stories more so than what you can do in a song.
So I guess my advice for people, I mean there’s so much I could say. But I think as an artist, I would say that my biggest piece of advice is to live, I mean like really actually go out and live. I was very obsessive with wanting to pursue this career path, and I felt like I was behind because I didn’t start until high school really, learning how to do musical theater, dancing and acting and all that. So I was obsessive and I think I missed out on a lot of life experience and opportunities because I was so focused on what I was doing. This obviously yielded me the success that I have, which is amazing, but also to be the best actor that you can be and to be able to tell these important stories, you have to really understand and have compassion for a lot of different people, people who are not like you. And living in New York City, you can people-watch and see all sorts of things, but to be able to step into someone else’s shoes really thoroughly and fully you have to have your own life experiences. You have to go out and meet and talk to and connect with people. Because that really is the best way to be able to tell those stories.