When Patti Murin and Caissie Levy first saw Disney’s Frozen, they instantly identified with Anna and Elsa, the sibling princesses at the center of the 2013 animated film (voiced by Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel, respectively). But neither anticipated they would one day be playing those respective roles on Broadway.
The stage vets, real-life friends who live across the street from each other, are leading the new Frozen musical — which brings the acclaimed movie and its lovable characters, celebrated songs (like Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez’s Oscar-winning “Let It Go”), and heartwarming story of sisterhood to life.
While the two knew one another before the show, it was personal heartbreak that brought them closer together.
Murin, 37, who plays Anna, had been attached to the musical for two years when she learned that she and her husband Colin Donnell (NBC’s Chicago Med) were expecting their first child together. In between workshops, she had planned on leaving the show to start a family when she miscarried 8 weeks later.
Levy, 36, who plays Elsa, had her own experience with miscarriage, and is now a mom to 2-year-old son Izaiah with husband David Reiser. She was called to the Frozen rehearsal room by its now-director Michael Grandage for a chemistry test with Murin.
“I hadn’t seen her in years and she told me she had just lost a pregnancy and I had had the exact same experience,” Levy recalls of their reading. “It just bonded us in this really beautiful way.”
“Her incredible maternal instinct just took over,” adds Murin, who says the time with Levy convinced her to stick with the project. “She took care of me. She got me through that. That’s one of the things for which I’m the most grateful. There’s no question asked — she will be there for me.”
Murin has Anna’s spunk, sass, and charming sense of humor — comedy chops she mastered on stage in Lysistrata Jones and Xanadu.
“Anna’s kind of this delightful, socially awkward mess and I really connected to that a lot,” Murin tells PEOPLE. “I say what’s on my mind and sometimes don’t think before I speak, which is sort of her entire thing. But I’ve also felt alone like Anna’s felt. And I get exciting when discovering new things, like she does. I am so comfortable being in Anna’s skin. She instantly felt familiar.”
Levy is as thoughtful and disciplined as Elsa offstage too. She says she discovered much more about the future snow queen when she got in the rehearsal room.
“I think she’s a really human, flawed, layered character — a lot more complicated than I saw at first glance,” Levy says. “She’s always trying to do the right thing, and sacrifices her entire life for her sister’s well-being. That’s beyond admirable.”
Like their characters, Murin and Levy have become a tightly bonded team. In fact, each credits the other for keeping her centered through the storm.
“I can’t imagine not having Patti with me on this project and not getting to share this experience with her,” Levy says. “There is no b——. There is no hiding. There is no formality. There is no competition. None of that even exists. It’s so grounding to be able to look at her across the stage, whether we’re in rehearsal or in performance, and know that someone out there knows me and gets me and has my back.”
“She is my source of calm,” says Murin of Levy. “There’s literally one person in this entire world who understands exactly what I’m going through right now, and it’s her. Anything that happens, I can go to her and talk to her and she gets it. We always have each other’s back, no matter what. There’s no explaining necessary. Nothing I say to her is wrong. She means the world to me. And has so quickly become one of my closest friends.”
As much as Frozen has brought Murin and Levy together in real life, they’re mostly just honored to bring the show to life for audiences young and old.
“What a thrill to get to be the person who gets to do this,” says Levy. “This story has touched so many people. And these roles are on another level. It is wild that we get to be the girls who do this on Broadway. Being the ones to tell it really isn’t lost on us. Every day, we’re reminded of how special this is.. I’m just so grateful.”
“This is a story about the love between two sisters, and it feels empowering to stand up there and tell it every night,” Murin continues. “I saw myself in Anna. Caisse sees herself in Elsa. And the little girls in the audience who come to the show, I can only hope they see themselves in these characters too.”
Frozen is now playing at New York City’s St. James Theatre.