From January 26 to February 6, the Wharton Center is about to get cooler with the arrival of the national Broadway tour of Frozen skating into town. Beloved Disney characters like Anna, Elsa and Olaf will be taking center stage together to tell the story in a new and exciting way unlike ever before.
While the story may center around the two sisters solving the everlasting winter in their kingdom, the rising star of the show with both comedic relief and emotional pinpoints of the show is Olaf, the sentient snowman learning how to navigate this new life and helping the girls along the way.
F. Michael Haynie has been playing this role with the cast since 2019, bringing life to the lovable character. They have been in many Broadway shows such as Wicked, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Holler If You Hear Me, but Haynie believes that this role is unique to any others.
"My Broadway debut was in Wicked and that was an absolutely thrilling, gigantic musical to join," Haynie said. "But there had been 11 other actors who played Bach before I joined, but with this, there was the one. There was Josh Gad having played and originated the voice of Olaf, and he’s still famously the voice of Olaf."
Haynie explained while they were intimidated by the idea of joining a giant corporation show like Frozen due to the fear of being made to be the carbon copy of the originators of the beloved character, they were able to create the character they wanted to portray and give their personal take.
"My Olaf is a psychopath," Haynie said. "He is scared of everything. He is in love with everything. He lives absolutely every moment as if it's the first time he’s ever felt emotion. He feels emotion at the top version of every emotion because he’s just new to this world."
While their personal take of Olaf is brand new, Haynie explained that there is nothing like being able to breach that 55 minute wait in the show for this character to appear and breathe life into the character that the audience may have idolized.
"Sometimes when I walk out with that puppet, they’ll start clapping … not for some famous Broadway star but instead the star is the weight of Olaf the character," Haynie said.
While Haynie would love to admit that breaking into In Summer and blowing the audiences away with a full musical number at the top of their character's arc is their favorite part of the show, they value the cast more than the spotlight.
"My favorite part of performing Frozen is the actors I get to work with," Haynie said. "It is an absolute pleasure to get to do this with these people because these people and I have been through experiences that I had never been through with a cast. I have never been with a cast this long. I get to work with actors and human beings that I trust."
Another part of the show Haynie loves to embrace the uniqueness of is the concept of their character: Haynie stands behind a puppet of the snowman and controls the character, never being able to interact with the other characters as they would in any other show.
"It’s like I get to be a proud parent of this young being coming into the world and getting to…watch my friends and loved ones watch Olaf grow," Haynie said.
Haynie was taught the art of puppetry by the masters of the field during production and learned to synthesize their acting into the puppet. While Haynie described this as an out of body experience, they also appreciate the realness this adds to the fictional character.
"If everyone acted like he was a puppet, it wouldn’t be a thing," Haynie said. "People look at him and see him, laugh at his jokes, and take to heart the things that he says."
However, Haynie has had a lot of experience in children's theater, more than they had ever expected. They claim that with this art form comes a large responsibility ask of the actors on the stage portraying a story for young people.
"Young audiences who are seeing their first show are discovering what they think of live performance," Haynie said. "They’re discovering what they think about the world. We’re teaching them all sorts of things without them necessarily knowing their learning."
While Haynie is playing a silly character, they believe that even the buffoonery of Olaf can have a large impact. From shows like Frozen, children are accidentally learning about sympathy, kindness and empathy, which are also the largest themes to which Haynie points out in the show. They also explain the importance of the role of love in the show.
“It is a lot about what love costs," Haynie said. "Love is not free or guaranteed just because of being related or because you’re supposed to love someone or because it makes sense to love someone. You see so many people in the show giving their love finally and giving their love without reservation…and that it costs something when it's betrayed.”
Haynie emphasizes that with these prevalent themes that drive Frozen, the story is beautiful and one to be told over and over again, especially in new ways such as live performance.
Whether the audience member is a beginner in the Disney world or have seen the original over a thousand times, the story is sure to still move audiences, finding them charmed by the story yet again in the new medium.
“When you come to Frozen, you are going to hear some of the songs that you know from the world franchise that is Frozen, you are going to hear some brand new things that were added in the Broadway production…you will see remarkable costumes and wigs, amazing performers, and singers, and dancers, and actors. You will see Frozen like you've never seen it before," Haynie said.
F. Michael Haynie, and Olaf, are excited to ring in the winter with a new classic, bringing the Wharton Center into a winter wonderland.
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