Arts & Events » Performance

Master of Puppets

Puppets take mainstage in the Broadway adaptation of “Frozen.”


If Michael Curry had his way, a trained animal would be playing the role of Sven the reindeer in the Broadway adaptation of the animated Disney movie “Frozen.”

“I spent a lot of time studying the grace of the reindeer,” says Curry, a production designer who specializes in puppetry. “I wanted to be so naturalistic.”

Sadly, a live reindeer will not be onstage when the traveling Broadway show comes to the Altria Theater next week. Instead, Curry’s puppet version will accompany the performers in this reworking of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen.”

Curry, a native of Oregon, came to New York City as a young man with the intention of being a fine artist who presented his work in galleries. After he began showing his art to the public, he realized just how much he enjoyed seeing the reaction people had to his work.

Michael Curry plays Sven the Reindeer. - COURTESY OF DISNEY THEATRICAL PRODUCTIONS
  • Courtesy of Disney Theatrical Productions
  • Michael Curry plays Sven the Reindeer.

Before long, he was working in theater, and collaborating with director Julie Taymor. When Taymor was hired to adapt “The Lion King” for Broadway, Curry came along for the ride. Together, Curry and Taymor designed all of the shows' masks and puppets.

The show was massively successful, garnering 11 Tony nominations and becoming a box office juggernaut, raking in nearly $1.9 billion on Broadway; it is the highest grossing Broadway musical to date.

Curry says his approaches to the puppetry of “The Lion King” and “Frozen” were different. In “The Lion King,” audiences visually see the actors wearing costumes and masks. With “Frozen,” the actors perform in full-body costumes.

“Julie Taymor and I developed this sort of duality where you show the human actor. They are literally operating the puppet and speaking the lines. They are the character,” he explains. “The other version is a full, immersive costume, what we call the structural costume. That’s Sven the reindeer, which was really a radical departure from the exposed puppetry. I wanted to create kind of a magical illusion with Sven, that you really question the reality of what you’re seeing.”

Company cast of "Frozen." - DEEN VAN MEER
  • Deen van Meer
  • Company cast of "Frozen."

Knowing that Sven would act against a handsome Broadway actor playing Kristoff, the rugged mountain man character, Curry wanted the puppet to feel authentic.

“It was important that he not be a cartoon,” Curry says. “In the film, he’s very much what I would call a cartoon, an animated caricature. I went much more realistic and tribal. If you look closely when you see the show, you’ll see these Norwegian engravings in his horns and in his hooves. He’s actually been embellished and decorated for that world. He has moss hanging from his antlers.”

The other puppet, Olaf, is a goofy snowman who sings of his desire to experience summer, completely unaware that he would melt.

“Olaf is a complete wackadoodle. He’s a comic character through and through who is very much a cartoon,” Curry says. “Instead of making it look like he’s made of snow, I put him in a Norwegian sweater.”

Curry seems to get a kick from the realism of his reindeer puppet.

“It fools the eye in a big way,” he says. “I’ve gotten a lot of people thinking we had an animal on stage.”

Broadway in Richmond’s “Frozen” plays Oct. 11-22 at the Altria Theater, 6 N. Laurel St., 23220. For more information, visit or call (804) 592-3368.