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Sven the Reindeer comes to life in Disney’s ‘Frozen’ at the Eccles Theater

SALT LAKE CITY — The Broadway touring company of Disney’s “Frozen” is bringing audiences to the Eccles Theatre in Salt Lake City.

KSL’s Carole Mikita was given exclusive access backstage to Sven the Reindeer and the man who makes him move.

When Sven steps out on stage, it is a moment.

Audience members, particularly the younger ones, express their delight.

He is simply part of the magic that is Disney’s “Frozen.”

But bringing Sven to life is an incredible challenge that begins with the actor inside.

Collin Baja is one of two who share the role.

“I also, in a previous life, was a pure dancer. So, I fit the mold of what they were looking for — as someone who’s highly aware of their body, can do a lot of physical acting and can sustain this. Because only by trial and error were they able to, in the audition, to see putting us in the force stilts, in a practice head, see how we could actually bring it to life. And I said yes to it because what a wild challenge,” said Baja.

We had the rare moment that few ever get to see.

Baja begins the costume process with Sven’s feet.

He laces his foot in first and then tightens it with velcro.

“Because all of my weight will be on the small stilt end,” he said.

And with both feet on, Baja explains his downward dog position that he maintains each time he appears on stage.

“I pitch forward, like this, so they’re facing all the way down, where all my weight’s up here,” he said.

Next, Sue McLaughlin, his dresser, and John Farrow, the wardrobe supervisor, zip Baja into Sven’s legs.

Baja said he could not function as Sven without McLaughlin’s assistance.

“If he needs anything — water, towel, anything — because he has no hands available to him most of the show. I’m right by his side,” said McLaughlin.

Baja then zips into Sven’s body.

Since his dressing takes place just off stage, Baja and McLaughlin have developed a signal system.

“We now have taps and non-verbal, verbal communication that allows this to be an easy process,” said Baja.

The costume process now moves to his upper body.

“I will now put on the sleeves and then go into the arms,” said Baja. “On the right one, there’s a chord underneath my handle that I’m controlling the blinking with, and on the left is the ears that I’m controlling.”

Then, Baja tips forward, while McLaughlin attaches Sven’s head.

Before she tucks him in all the way, Baja shows us what he sees.

“You see that my vision is basically about two to three feet out and it’s at an angle that’s down,” he said.

And suddenly, Sven is up and trotting around.

He comes over to KSL’s Carole Mikita, who is completely swept up in the illusion — believing she’s petting a real reindeer!

Just as quickly, Baja demonstrates that Sven can be at rest, crossing his legs on the stage floor, and then suddenly up again!

With all of those energetic movements, Mikita wondered if he had to learn to breathe differently?

He laughed and replied, “Training in altitude helps.”

The Disney stage production is obviously very different from the blockbuster film, but the actors, and certainly the characters, capture the imagination.

“We have things like Sven that come to life, Olaf comes to life. And there are magic moments throughout the show, but it doesn’t feel like you’re watching a magic show. You were watching this great story that’s very immersive that has magic in it,” said John Farrow, wardrobe supervisor for “Frozen.”

Sven the Reindeer comes to life as Collin Baja literally pitches forward on stilts.

“It is also a thrill to see and hear the reactions from children, from adults, from families. Because we keep it a secret in a lot of ways, and so, when they see the show, and they don’t understand how it’s done, but yet they felt a connection to Sven, or they love that connection between him and Christoph, that’s really rewarding,” said Baja.

And in our beautiful Eccles Theatre, Collin Baja shows us why Sven remains a “Frozen” fan favorite!

Sue McLaughlin put it perfectly: “Just the sense of community that this show elevates, I love.”

Disney’s “Frozen” has performances at the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City through Nov. 13.

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