NEW YORK • Sven the reindeer almost didn't make it to Broadway.
When Disney decided to adapt its mega-hit animated film Frozen for the stage, the creative team seriously considered killing the reticent reindeer - a fate that did befall the marauding ice monster Marshmallow as well as the menacing pack of wolves.
"We were going to not have Sven in the show," said Mr Thomas Schumacher, president of Disney Theatrical Productions, "because we were afraid it would just occupy space onstage and be distracting."
But the company invited its longtime puppetry collaborator, Mr Michael Curry, to experiment with ways the shaggy creature might be represented onstage.
He tested a two-performer pantomime before deciding to fashion a full-scale figure that could wordlessly engage with the unfolding plot - that could act - when brought to life by a single actor within.
The resulting reindeer has become one of the most popular characters in the show, getting entrance applause and even a cameo on the Tonys - joining James Monroe Iglehart at the microphone to introduce the Frozen performance.
Sven's head is moulded from carbon-fibre composite, his body is shaped foam covered with braided raw silk, and his hooves are rubber-coated foam sculptures mounted around aluminium and stainless-steel orthopaedic braces.
Underneath, the performer wears a full-body wicking suit, a carbon-fibre head mount held in place by a soft urethane skin, knee and elbow pads, biking gloves and a mouth guard.
Sven is slightly larger than life at 2.6m long and his frame weighs about 6.35kg. There is a screen hidden in the animal's neck, allowing the actor to see, although his field of vision is sharply limited - so much so that Sven has the de facto right of way onstage.
The reindeer's predominant colouring is a tan-like hue called raw sienna, but he also has a bit of pink (to warm him up visually), some red and blue highlights (the colours of the Norwegian flag) and flecks of green (moss).
Up close, there are some touches a theatregoer would never see - hoof carvings, for example, that echo Scandinavian design patterns in the set.
"He is a compromise between the caricature of the animated feature, a real reindeer and what I know would look human in a way," Mr Curry said.
The role was originated by Andrew Pirozzi, an actor who has been dancing since he was four and who had learnt tumbling and hand balancing by studying at a circus school and performing with an acrobatic team.
Sven is onstage for about 40 minutes of the show and the role is physically taxing - the performer inside is on all fours, essentially planking for up to seven minutes at a time, with 28cm stilts attached to his hands and 12cm metal shanks attached to his feet.
A cable connects the performer's right hand to Sven's eyes, to make the animal blink; another connects his left hand to Sven's ears, which generally swing freely, but can also be rotated or pulled back to express excitement or happiness.
The mouth moves only when another character (Kristoff or Anna) rubs his throat.
Pirozzi was the only Sven during last summer's pre-Broadway run at the Denver Centre for the Performing Arts. But once the mechanics of the role became fully clear, Disney decided it was too much for one actor to do eight times a week, so on Broadway, Pirozzi is Sven at six performances and Adam Jepsen, an actor who was once a competitive gymnast, does the other two.