By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
How Forsyth County native's casting as Olaf on Broadway is groundbreaking
Ryann Redmond Lady Olaf 1 060519 web
Ryann Redmond plays Olaf, the loveable snowman character in “Frozen the Musical” on Broadway. The South Forsyth High School graduate is the first female to play the role. (Photo courtesy Deen van Meer)

Ryann Redmond was sure the audition appointment was a mistake. The character was a male, and the audition song was in the key for either a baritone or tenor.

So the South Forsyth High School graduate and Broadway performer called her agent.

“My agent said, ‘No, this is for you,’” Redmond said.

Indeed, Redmond had been requested to audition for the role of Olaf in “Frozen the Musical,” the Broadway production of the popular Disney movie. She certainly wasn’t a conventional choice. All previous iterations of the character had been played by men, first by Josh Gad in the original 2013 animated movie and then Greg Hildreth in the stage production that opened March 22, 2018.

Redmond put her “own little spin” on the character during her audition, she said, and it worked. Redmond got the part of the joyful and humorous snowman last November, and her casting as the first female to play the character made headlines in the entertainment world when it was announced in January.

#LadyOlaf quickly trended on Twitter after Redmond’s debut performance on Feb. 19. She was featured on ABC News the next day. Even Gad tweeted his support to Redmond.

“It’s been awesome,” Redmond said. “We meet so many people at the stage door that are just so thrilled that a woman is playing this part. It’s cool to be a part of how progressive Disney is.”

The role has catapulted Redmond, 29, into notoriety, but she’s not a Broadway newcomer. She made her debut in 2012 in the Tony-nominated “Bring It On: The Musical” and was then in “If/Then” in 2014 featuring Idina Menzel, who was, ironically, the voice of Queen Elsa in the “Frozen” movie and sang the mega-hit song “Let It Go.”

It’s been a swift rise for Redmond, who didn’t develop an interest in musical theater until her family moved to Forsyth County before she went into the eighth grade.

Redmond had been a competitive softball player up until then. But the drama department at South Forsyth Middle School was going to perform the classic musical “Annie” that year and Redmond felt compelled to try something new. She auditioned for the role of Annie but instead was cast as Jules Bundles, the laundry man who helps sneak Annie out of the orphanage.

“He’s got like three lines,” Redmond said. “Needless to say I was a little upset. But I milked Mr. Bundles for all he was worth.”

Redmond went to South Forsyth High School the following year, and she got plugged into the school’s theater department with teacher Renee Denney. Redmond performed in several musicals that year and “sort of caught the bug,” she said. In particular, Redmond found she had a comedic talent and enjoyed making people laugh.

Denney left after Redmond’s freshman year, but South’s theater department performed even more musicals under new director Eric Gray the next three years.

“I was just surrounded by [musicals] and fell in love with it,” Redmond said.

Redmond decided to devote herself to theater. She started working with the Broadway Dreams Foundation, a nonprofit that provides training and mentorship opportunities from professional performers, and eventually earned a full-ride to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

One summer, while still attending NYU, Redmond participated in a Broadway Dreams’ summer-long intensive in New York City. The intensive culminated in a performance in front of industry casting agencies and talent agents. In the crowd was Bernie Telsey, a prominent casting director in New York.

“He saw me singing and said, ‘This girl needs to come in for this musical that we’re developing,’” Redmond said.

It was “Bring It On: The Musical.” (Lin Manuel-Miranda, now of “Hamilton” fame, co-wrote the music and lyrics.) Redmond left NYU and joined the production, which debuted at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta in January of 2011. Eighteen months later, the musical made its Broadway debut.

“There was a little apprehension” leaving college, Redmond said, “but in the end, I just realized that’s what I was going to school to do. A lot of times just gaining experience can be just as influential as in the classroom.”

Redmond hasn’t looked back since. Her career seems to be on firm ground now, but Redmond knows her roots are in Forsyth County, where a softball player turned into a Broadway groundbreaker.

“I grew up like a normal teenager,” Redmond said, “and I really think that helped me become a well-rounded human as well as a well-rounded performer.”