By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — “Disney’s Frozen” on stage brings immense pageantry, leaving audience members’ jaws’ dropped, and eyes wide.

But what they don’t see is the meticulous preparation and attention to detail that brings an animated fan favorite to life.

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Evan Strand is one of two actors donning the puppet costume for the grueling and unique role of Sven the reindeer on the national tour.

“It’s a very taxing role,” Strand said. “I’m not dancing, I’m not singing, I have no lines and I am acting, but it’s a very different acting.”

It’s a performance that requires subtle yet impactful movements.

“I’ve got cables that come down to my hands, so when I pull the right side for the eyes, and the left side for the ears,” he said.

Even showing Sven’s pleasure from a chin scratch helps capture the crowd’s imagination.

“I tell people that kids under the age of 10 don’t really know it’s not a real reindeer. Certainly not right away,” Strand said.

But how do you train yourself to move as comfortably as possible like a reindeer?

“You threw a word in that doesn’t belong with Sven, and ‘comfort’ is not really anything I would put onto this character,” he said.

The puppet weighs up to 90 pounds. Strand works out daily and shares the role with another cast member to give them rest, while a keen production crew not only helps them get dressed, but navigate the stage mid-show.

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Evan Strand and Sven (credit: CBS)

Sue McLaughlin is a key dresser and puppet supervisor.

“Everybody’s always keeping an eye on him to make sure that he’s safe because he does have limited vision,” McLaughlin said.

John Furrow is the production’s wardrobe supervisor.

“We know when he’s exiting, so traffic is cleared so he has a direct path to where he’s going so he’s not held up, no one runs into him,” Furrow said. “It’s a bit of choreography.”

But it all begins with the puppet, and the person tasked with bringing it to life.

“It’s hand painted and hand-dyed and it’s a work of art on its own,” McLaughlin said. “But it’s not part of the company until there’s somebody doing.”

“Once it hits the stage, it’s magic,” Furrow said.

A feeling the audience and actors share from start to finish.

“But when I first come out and then at the very end when we bow, there’s a definite encouragement, a bit of an uproar that really kind of goes, ‘Yeah, OK, this is fun,’” Strand said.

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“Frozen” continues through Oct. 20 at the Orpheum in downtown Minneapolis. Tickets are still available.

Jeff Wagner