Always Anna: Local actor felt a connection to 'Frozen' character the moment their red braids met

·7 min read

Sep. 24—After a long, cold journey, Anna is coming home. She'll be with her older sister — the one who's always been a little more reserved and looked after her. She's bringing some new friends.

But this isn't Arendelle. Anna is Twin Cities actor Caroline Innerbichler, coming home to Minneapolis with the Broadway touring production of "Frozen," which opens Sept. 30 at the Orpheum Theatre. The pandemic iced the tour, which was supposed to stop at the Orpheum in May 2020, but is back on the road.

In a phone interview from Buffalo, N.Y., where "Frozen" was on stage through the end of last week, Innerbichler talked about the painful pause, growing up on stage in the Twin Cities and — of course — her role as the hero/sister in the theatrical production of the Disney smash hit musical "Frozen."

Meeting Anna

Innerbichler was playing Chava, one of the daughters in "Fiddler on the Roof," at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in 2014 when "Frozen" first hit movie theaters. The cast ("a bunch of musical theater nerds," Innerbichler says) decided to take in the movie. Innerbichler had her long red hair in braids with bangs for her "Fiddler" role. When Anna appeared, the resemblance was undeniable.

"Everyone slowly turned to look at me," she says.

When Disney took the tale to the stage in 2017, there was a casting call in Chicago (where Innerbichler happened to be at the time) for the pre-Broadway production. She made it to final callbacks, but didn't make the show. But when the tour was cast, she tried again and got the part — after eight more callbacks. Innerbichler figures she got 14-16 callbacks total before she was cast as Anna.

The tour opened in December 2019 in Los Angeles and started a route up the West Coast, moving to Seattle and then Portland, where it was supposed to run for three weeks. At the beginning of the second week, COVID-19 shut down theaters.

No one expected what was ahead, Innerbichler says. She figured a few weeks off would be a good time to come back to Minnesota. Anna is a physically demanding role and she could use a rest, but "I didn't mean for that long," she says.

Safer at home

When her father, Mark, a pilot with Delta before he retired, starting hearing about possible shutdowns, "it was really scary," Innerbichler says. "We just didn't know. So I put everything in a bag and came home."

After a two-week self-quarantine, she spent time at her parents' place in Brooklyn Park with her mini-Aussie, Finna. She didn't see her sister or nephew and niece at all. In September 2020, she and Finna returned to the house she rents in Minneapolis with six other actors — "a larger pod than others had," she says. The theater housemates did movies and meals, gardening and "pretending the holidays were normal."

Caroline says she and her older sister, Allison, are a little like Anna and Elsa. Allison is more stoic and reserved, "always like a second mom," she says. "I'm the wild and crazy one."

Nephew Basil, 5, and niece Cecily, 2, are big "Frozen" fans and have seen the movie repeatedly. Caroline has given them "Frozen" toys, but they haven't seen her on stage as Anna. Basil might see the show at the Orpheum, she says. He asked if his aunt "Would wear the big dress and would someone dance with her?"

And by the way, she's known as "Auntie Hootie" to her niece and nephew, "Hootie" to the rest of the family. Innerbichler explains that when she was born at 8 a.m. on 8/8/88, her exhausted father tried to say she was "happy" and "a cutie" and instead told her mother, Jeanne, that the newborn was "hootie."

'I've been around here a bit'

Innerbichler went to Eagan High School and the University of Minnesota. She started performing on Twin Cities stages when she was 11 years old. "I started as a preteen, so I've been around here a bit."

Her "pretty consistent work" in local theater includes Ariel in "The Little Mermaid" and Chava in "Fiddler on the Roof" at Chanhassen Dinner Theatres in 2014, Sandy in "Grease" at Chanhassen in 2017, Liesl in "The Sound of Music" (2015) and Sophie in "Mamma Mia!" (2018) at the Ordway, "Ragtime" at Park Square Theatre in 2012 and "Little House on the Prairie" in 2008. She was the understudy for Nellie Oleson in the first national tour of "Little House on the Prairie: The Musical" in 2009.

Innerbichler says working at Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis while she was growing up and performing in front of busloads of children — sometimes 11 performances a week — has been good for her in "Frozen," which draws a young, enthusiastic audience. "I had to learn to remain incredibly focused," she says, amid screams and responses in the children's theater. When she hears fussing in the audience in the middle of a ballad, she says, "I know I'd better get cooking."

"I find it invigorating."

Rather than singing along, the "Frozen" audience is encouraged to "sit, enjoy and absorb" the performance, which includes a live orchestra and special effects, Innerbichler says. "These are real people experiencing these emotions." And it's certainly not just for children, she adds.

On the road

Innerbichler's partner, Sean Wade, a software programmer who is also from Minneapolis and can work remotely, will travel with her as the tour continues after Minneapolis. And they'll bring Finna. They'll be able to drive between cities and she can relax after the demanding performances.

"I absolutely love my job and fully immerse myself in whatever I'm doing, but when I'm off, I'm off," Innerbichler says. "I want an entirely separate life."

The tour's next stop is Salt Lake City and they plan to do some hiking. "It's definitely going to be a game-changer."

They'll be able to cook some meals, since cast members stay in hotels with kitchens or rental apartments. She learned on tour when she was younger "chicken fingers at every meal does not a happy stomach make."

She says touring with "Little House on the Prairie" in her 20s was "like my college, in a way," with many in the cast her same age.

"I'm really lucky both of these touring companies have felt like family," Innerbichler says. It was particularly good to get back together with the "Frozen" crew after the shutdown. She calls her castmates down-to-earth and humble, even though they have impressive theater credits, like Caroline Bowman, who plays Elsa and has played Elphaba in "Wicked" on Broadway and Evita Peron in a touring production of "Evita."

"She's kind and supportive," Innerbichler says of Bowman. "She does feel like my sister at this point."

Anna for all

"Frozen" has been praised for its strong female characters, but Innerbichler doesn't consider Anna bossy. "She just gets things done."

There are moments in the play when Anna is more vulnerable than the movie Anna and when asked if she knows what she's doing, she admits she does not. "She doesn't have all the answers, but she knows she has to keep moving forward."

Actor and character are a lot alike.

"We don't only look similar," Innerbichler says, "we're pretty dang similar. We have a lot of the same energy, the same humor and we're both a little awkward.

"This Disney princess isn't as perfect or as neatly packaged as some."


— When: Sept. 30-Oct. 20

— Where: Orpheum Theatre, 910 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis

— Tickets: $150-$40; 800-982-2787 or

— Plus: Proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test required. Masks required. Details at

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