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Utah actors finally back to work as Disney's 'Frozen' opens at the Eccles

Caroline Innerbichler as Anna and The Company of FROZEN North American Tour.

Caroline Innerbichler as Anna and The Company of FROZEN North American Tour. (Deen van Meer)

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Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

SALT LAKE CITY — A long, COVID-19-induced winter has finally thawed at the Eccles Theatre in downtown Salt Lake City.

Disney's "Frozen" opens Tuesday, the first touring musical production to grace the Eccles stage since the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly ended the highly anticipated production of "Dear Evan Hansen" 591 days ago.

As the pandemic swept the globe, touring Broadway productions came to a halt across the country and several Utah actors were instantly out of a job.

Riverton High School grad Michael Milkanin is not only glad to be back at work, but he's also happy to be home. As the jolly Oaken in "Frozen," Milkanin will give a friendly "yoo hoo" to family and friends in the audience on opening night.

Milkanin was in the third month of the "Frozen" national tour in Portland, Oregon, when the world suddenly came to a stop. Company management told the cast things were shutting down for four weeks.

"We all thought we had a vacation," Milkanin said, as he booked a quaint Airbnb with some friends.

That four-week vacation extended to a year-and-a-half sabbatical.

"It was surreal," Milkanin said. "All of a sudden our career has taken a backseat and is sort of deemed 'nonessential,' so you start contemplating 'is it time to pivot? Do I need to find an essential job?'"

One by one, Milkanin watched some friends in the theater world pivot to new careers, while others, like Milkanin, stuck it out.

Holladay resident and Olympus High School grad Kalyn West was touring the country with the cast of "Mean Girls" when Broadway national tours came to a halt.

"At the time nobody knew how long it would be," West said. "It was hard to absorb. We had no work. Everything was gone. How is anyone supposed to be prepared for that?"

West used the time in quarantine to meditate and connect with her family.

"I was able to look at myself in a whole different way," she said. "I've been defining myself by my job, by how much I produce and how much I succeed. Suddenly everything is gone, but I'm still here. Who am I without all of that?"

West didn't let the coronavirus stop her from going after her dreams. She was just cast as one of the leads in the national tour of "The Prom," and just wrapped up a run of "The Gardens of Anuncia" at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego.

Both West and Milkanin found a silver lining from the experience. West was able to be home for the first several months of her first nephew's life, an experience she never could have had living in New York City. Milkanin spent Christmas with his family for the first time since 2014. He was also able to help nurse his sister back to health after a bout with breast cancer.

Despite all of that, both actors were eager to get back on stage.

"It's like home," West said.

And the audiences have been eager, as well.

After the curtain came up as the "Frozen" tour relaunched in Buffalo on Sept. 10, Milkanin said "the audience went nuts."

"The give-and-take energy was so palpable and amazing," he added. "It can't be created anywhere but these spaces. It's beyond."

Disney's "Frozen" is now playing at the Eccles Theatre in Salt Lake City and continues through Saturday, Nov. 13.

About the Author: Leigh Gibson

Leigh owns every Broadway musical cast album money can buy, and is teaching her three kids early to love musical theater. She co-hosts the "We Are Here, Broadway" YouTube channel with her husband and visits New York City at least once a year to see every new musical. To read more of her articles, visit Leigh's author page.


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