Maryland native Caroline Bowman remembers her first serious grapple with “Let It Go,” the monster hit she sings in Disney’s stage musical “Frozen.”
It was during the audition process for the role of Elsa, the young queen who lets rip with the song while coming to terms with her dangerous ice-generating powers. Bowman is a longtime showbiz pro, but she knew that “Let It Go” would require training. She drilled the number every day. “I needed that song to be in my bones,” she recalls. “I needed it to be a part of my DNA in order to sing it.”
Her diligence paid off: The Glenelg High School alum was cast as Elsa in the North American tour of “Frozen,” the stage version of the blockbuster 2013 movie. Directed by Michael Grandage, with music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and a book by Jennifer Lee, the production runs at the Kennedy Center through Jan. 21.
In landing the part of Elsa, Bowman cemented a trifecta of big-E leading-lady roles: She has also played Elphaba in “Wicked” on Broadway, and she toured in the title role of a Grandage-helmed “Evita” seen at the Kennedy Center in 2014. Elsewhere in the alphabet, her credits include channeling Lady of the Lake in a touring “Spamalot,” Rizzo in “Grease” at Olney Theatre Center and Nicola in Broadway’s “Kinky Boots.” But the role of Elsa has given her an unparalleled feeling of coming into her own.
“It fits really well,” she says via Zoom from a tour stop in Detroit. “Maybe unlike the other times or roles in my life when I might have made them fit. This one I really feel connected to.”
Bowman acquired a taste for theater early in her Howard County childhood, tagging along to community-theater rehearsals with her actress mother. “I loved watching her do theater and saw how much joy it brought her,” the “Frozen” actress recalls.
Young Caroline plunged into choirs and theater camps, and took on roles at Toby’s Dinner Theatre in Columbia, Md., before getting a BFA at Pennsylvania State University. An early big professional gig sent her to China in a tour of “Fame.”
When the “Frozen” tour was casting, Bowman was obviously right for the part, says director Grandage during a phone call from London. Not only does she have the requisite vocal chops, but she pulls off the feat of conveying both Elsa’s vulnerability and her strength, he says. Additionally, he notes, Bowman taps into the idea of Elsa as an ice-sculpting artist.
The character “finds herself through the creativity, and through that she finds the independence she never had. And I think Caroline really understood that in a way that illuminated part of the character,” he says.
Elsa is also, in an important plot point, a sister to a younger royal, Anna. Bowman says it’s this strand of “Frozen” that particularly attracts her. The actress says she herself had a sister who died of a heart condition when they both were young children. That loss makes playing Elsa a hugely moving experience.
“My heart is so full in so many crazy ways,” Bowman says. “I’ve played the role for a long time now, and it’s one of the reasons I’ve not been able to stop playing her: because I get to have this gift of a sister.”
The “Frozen” tour launched in late 2019, with Bowman’s husband, Austin Colby, a sometime fixture of the D.C.-area theater scene, playing Hans. Just a few months in, the pandemic hit. The couple and their German shepherd, Kodak, spent the shutdown time hunkering down with Bowman’s parents in Maryland, doing the odd Zoom concert from the living room. “I actually really cherish that time that I got to have with my family for that long,” Bowman says.
The couple rejoined the tour when it started back up, though Colby has since moved on to other projects.
Touring can be stressful and strenuous. When she’s on the road, Bowman tries to maintain as much routine as she can. Finding outposts of Trader Joe’s, her go-to source for post-performance snacks — “I’m a big dip person,” she says — creates some continuity.
A less comfortable constant is Elsa’s magnificent ice dress. Despite its more than 10,000 crystal beads, the frock isn’t too heavy, the actress says, adding, “I wouldn’t sleep in it.”
And then there is that other staple of her current life: “Let It Go.” Technically, it’s a tough song to sing, because of the way it starts low and builds, she says. But delivering it is thrilling.
At that point in the show, the audience tends to get quiet, waiting in expectation. “It’s an adrenaline rush like I’ve never felt,” Bowman says. “You get on the roller coaster, and you ride it.”
John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Opera House, 2700 F St. NW. 202-467-4600. kennedy-center.org.
Dates: Through Jan. 21