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A Chat with Princess Anna

Twin Cities favorite Caroline Innerbichler returns to the stage, this time on national tour.

Austin Colby (Hans) and Caroline Innerbichler (Anna) in "Frozen." Photos by Deen van Meer.

News broke that Twin Cities darling Caroline Innerbichler would be playing Princess Anna in the North American tour of "Frozen" more than two years ago. At the time, I saw the headline, mentally shrieked, and immediately pitched my editor a Q&A for the seemingly far-off Minneapolis performances. Besides the objective immensity of it all, I had fallen in love with Innerbichler's performance as Ariel in Chanhassen Dinner Theatres' "The Little Mermaid" in 2014, and I, like many theater lovers around here, found her unforgettable.

After a COVID-19 tour postponement—in which Innerbichler came back to Uptown and learned how to play guitar—"Frozen" is finally playing at Hennepin Theatre Trust's Orpheum Theatre, now through Oct. 20. And honestly? I can't think of a better way to welcome Broadway back to the Twin Cities.

Before you see the magic yourself, get the scoop on tour life, the reality of being Princess Anna, and the Twin Cities recommendations Innerbichler gave her cast and crew (including Robert Creighton, the Duke of Weselton, who cruised by her on a bike during our phone interview).

So what is a typical tour stop like for you? Do you get to explore the cities?

It kind of depends on what our schedules like in each city—specifically for me and Caroline [Bowman, who plays Elsa] when we're doing press and what not. Typically when we first touch feet in the next city, we have a couple days of loading into the theater, have to do sound check. … I also run through a lot of my quick changes. I change costumes a lot in the show: I tried counting, and I just have no idea. I have 9.5 wigs or something like that [laughs]. We also have local hires from every city we go to, so the first day of theater is always us acclimating to the new theater and teaching the new people joining the show the first time and maybe a run through of more challenging quick changes or technical elements.

We go through the first weekend and I do my five-show weekend, Friday to Saturday to Sunday, and then after that, my days off, the goal is to try to explore the cities as much as I can. That's the great thing about the local crew and the local hires; I can ask what's the best ramen in town, or what's your favorite takeout, or where would you go on a hike?

Of course we're here in Minneapolis [now], so I get to be home, which is awesome. But there's also all these social engagements that I'm trying to keep up with. Also, I didn't really pack for tour yet this time around. I was in Buffalo for six weeks, and I thought, "Oh, I'll just pack for six weeks and do the packing packing for tour when I'm home." Now I'm kicking myself. I wish I had done all that crap first!

What would you recommend for your cast and crew to do in the Twin Cities?

I'm so glad you asked because our company managers, the people who sort of organize our travel and housing and are our liaison, they send out a city sheet which has local recommendations for urgent care, OBGYN, chiro, massage, spa, stuff like that, so if we need any of those things, we know exactly who to call. And sometimes they'll add in, "Check out this local hot spot and see this sight from this city," and I was like, I want to make my own city sheet in Minneapolis.

So with the help of a lot of close friends here, I compiled a list of different cool places for them to go. A lot of people are traveling with their dogs on this tour, so I was like, you have to go to Minnehaha Falls and walk your dog and then go to the big dog park there; that's where I take my baby [dog]. And I always try to go to any local art museum because that's one of my favorite places to zen out, especially with really cool weather, so go to the MIA, the Walker, the sculpture garden.

Favorite restaurants, I love Nightingale—it's right by me in Uptown—and I always love World Street Kitchen, and I love Spoon & Stable, and you've got to go to Bar La Grassa. I also love shopping, too, and going to the best vintage stores like Corner Store in Uptown, and I love GH2, which is a designer resale, and I love Park Boutique. So I was like, "Check out all these cool places!"

What kind of dog do you have?

She is a mini Aussie, 15 pounds, about 10 years old, and I've had her since she was 5½ months old. She's just been my buddy and my home for years now, and it was really hard for the first time around on the tour [without her]. I was adjusting to this intense role—this is the hardest role, the most demanding role that I've played. I'm a homebody, so especially on the road, it was hard to acclimate to living in a hotel room or a place that I'm not familiar with.

This time around, I'm going on tour with my partner, Sean, and he is going to be helping me out taking care of her. All three of us are going to be driving the tour. A bunch of people with dogs are choosing to drive the tour, and some people without are choosing to drive because they don't feel as safe flying. You also have a lot more control about the amount of stuff you can bring when you travel. Like, you're trying to be good-looking people, trying to stay fit and healthy, so I have a thousand different face creams and hair products and all that jazz, a bunch of different pressed outfits. It's hard to schlep all that via the airplane.

Even without the pandemic happening, I always loved road trips. Ask me again in six months when I'm totally burnt out of driving over the country. [laughs] But for now, it's totally ideal. I get to listen to awesome music and podcasts with my boyfriend and go across America.

You mentioned that this is your most demanding role so far. Could you go more into that?

Doing something that is this widely known, playing a character that is already embedded in so many people's brains as a cartoon Kristin Bell's voice or even with the woman who originated her own Broadway, Patti Murin, everyone has certain expectations. I've played Sandy in "Grease," Ariel in "The Little Mermaid"—these iconic roles that people are always familiar with, and I feel like there's a lot of pressure.

I feel better with it now, and if I'm getting super deep and real here, I think I was putting a lot of pressure on myself to be a perfect Disney princess even when I was just doing press or doing public appearances. Disney never put much pressure on me; they trusted me. It was more of me trusting myself. It was me telling myself this is just another role I'm playing; I'm an actor, and I've been doing this 23 years professionally.

I'm in a much more demanding market, a wider market. Instead of just playing the Twin Cities, I'm playing the country. I have an agent now. This is definitely moving into a different phase of my career, and I think it just took me a long time to adjust to that in my life. And on top of that, it's just a very physically demanding role, dancing and singing in a tight corset and a full ball gown that weighs 20 pounds and doing all these tricks and stunts and leaps and turns. At one point, I'm free climbing half of a story, and there's fight choreography.

But while it's really challenging, that's exactly the type of thing that I was ready to do. I really wanted to be pushed physically. I view myself as a really physical actor; I like to fully embody the characters I've been playing. I have an exponential amount of energy with ADHD, where it's like, "Wow, this is really hard, but really fun when I get it right."

Did you get to this mindset with time or through deliberate thought?

I think it's a combination of both, honestly. I definitely, like a lot of people and actually a lot of actors and performers, suffer with bouts of depression and definitely anxiety. And that all kind of correlates with my neurodivergence of being ADHD.

There's a lot of people in the arts that are neurodivergent. Our minds just work differently. It's wonderful and makes us more creative, but it's also really hard to manage your life and your expectations and your own abilities in a very fast-paced and mentally demanding line of work—and inconsistent line of work. So I've been in therapy for many, many years, and I am always telling everyone that if they should be going to the doctor for their bodies, your brain is no different. And that definitely helped me out a lot.

And yeah, having the time away [helped], although it was a really traumatic time for this country. I've lost loved ones to COVID-19 like many people did, so while it was a really strange, scary time, I did try as best as I could to make the most of this downtime: "I get to really look at my life and how my brain is structured, and I get to dig into that and see what serves me and what doesn't." And instead of sitting and thinking about it and planning, the fact that now I get to implement the changes I've worked so much to make is a blessing for sure.

Is there anything that has surprised you about playing Princess Anna?

Many of my audience members, when they come to see a stage production of "Frozen," I think they have certain expectations. "Oh, it's like the movie," "Oh this is for children," "Oh, it's Disney—mini eye roll—how deep could this go?" But I was so surprised, and I think a lot of our audience members are surprised, by the depth of this story, particularly our version of this story. … It's not about romance or "This is a Disney princess." It's about belonging, and a community.

This person has been isolated: Anna has lost her parents, and the only family member she has left is her sister, and her sister is running away from her. Just seeing the perseverance and determination, that she won't take no for an answer; instead of muscling through it, she really fights for her family with a vulnerability, an openness, and a sensitivity. And she allows herself to be emotionally flawed, like, "I don't know if this is going to work, but I'm going to do it," and, "I might not say it pretty and I might not do it pretty, but I still try." And that type of optimism, you can't help but be inspired.

Even when days have been very, very hard for me, she... in a really, kind of "woo woo" way, she really picks me up and keeps me going sometimes.

And you know, even Elsa's story is really inspiring. It's about a woman who's told to keep her true self hidden from everyone and not allowed to express herself in the beautiful way that she can. ... There's more of an emphasis in our version of the story about the community being frightened by someone who is different than they are … and [it's] watching individuals handle fear, which is a major theme that we're all kind of undergoing in this country and in this world right now.

There's so many hot-button issues that are hard to address, but doing this play makes me feel good about boiling it down to just humanity and telling stories about strong women, told by strong women. And that's really fulfilling.

This interview was edited for style, length, and clarity.


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