PHOTOGRAPHY BY BRYAN DERBALLA
It was jealousy that set Caissie Levy on her path to the Broadway stage. “I was 8 and went to see Les Miz in Toronto, and I was like, Who are those little girls onstage?” recalls the Hamilton, Ontario, native, eyes narrowing in mock anger. “I want to do that!” Thirteen years later and just a week out of The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, she landed the role of Maureen in the national touring company of Rent—a show she adored as a teenager. “But I think because I was so young, it didn’t occur to me to be wowed by it,” she says. “I was thrilled, but I was like, Oh, OK, I guess this is what people do—they move to New York and they go on tour with Rent. And everyone else was like, ‘What are you talking about? That’s amazing!’” Next came Broadway (“a huge moment for me”), first in Hairspray and then productions of Wicked, Hair, Ghost, and, yes, Les Misérables. She had just signed on to take over for Sara Bareilles in Waitress when she was offered a role in what will no doubt be the biggest hit of the year (decade?), and she knew she couldn’t, um, let it go.
Yes, Levy, now 36, is stepping into the icy shoes of Elsa in the Disney musical Frozen, a part practically every girl in the world knows cold. So, no pressure. “It’s terrifying!” she says, laughing. “But the joy of getting to originate it is unparalleled. I am so stoked that I get to be the first human being to inhabit this character on Broadway.” With her bouncy blond curls and bright green eyes, Levy looks the part, and although she’s not fueled by fear and anger like her cartoon counterpart, she does relate to Elsa. “We all struggle with this idea of being perfect for everybody else all the time, especially women; we always want to please people. It’s something I’m actively fighting against.” Of course, pleasing people is exactly what this show aims to do, whether it’s wowing kids with onstage snowstorms or making grandparents laugh with clever lyrics from Oscar-winning songwriting duo Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez, who penned 12 new numbers for the stage production, including Levy’s favorite, “Monster,” which she describes as “a Kelly Clarkson emo ballad from hell.” Stresses Levy: “It’s not just a kids’ show.”
Levy currently has a one-year contract with Frozen, but she’s open to extending it. “This is a part and a character I want to stay with for a long time,” she says, noting that being a Disney queen is “not too shabby.” But she also knows that when she does decide to move on, she’ll leave her mark on the role. “So much of what we do as actors ends up in the show forever—the little vocal quirks, little lines we throw in here and there.” She has her eye on lots of other opportunities, as well: recording a new solo album (she released an album of standards in 2013), doing more film and TV work (she recently appeared in an episode of Gotham), and teaching at AMDA, where, she says, her students always pick on her for saying “let it go” during their breathing exercises (“I’m trying to take that out of my vocabulary”). But her first priority at the moment is spending more time with her husband, David, and their 2-year-old son, Izaiah, who remains a Frozen novice. “No, he has not seen the movie,” Levy admits. “But he has books of Frozen, and when he points to Elsa, he says, ‘Mama.’”