From Anna and Elsa to Mickey and Minnie, almost a century of Disney’s beloved characters will take to the ice April 27 through May 1 for “Disney on Ice Celebrates 100 Years of Magic.”
A dream for Disney fans of all ages, the production includes real-life retellings of 14 Disney tales and features more than 30 songs.
The show’s creative director — a former performer with Disney on Ice for eight years — is Patty Vincent, who says showgoers should prepare to be fully transported into a wide array of magical Disney settings.
“From the snowy wonderland of the North Mountain from ‘Frozen’ to the underwater playground of ‘The Little Mermaid’ to the African savannah of ‘The Lion King,’ we’ve pulled out all the stops and utilized a wide range of special effects to ensure that everyone really feels like they’re in the story,” she says. “It’s not just lighting and music; this is a fully immersing experience.”
But the heart of the show is, of course, the characters everyone knows and loves. For this, a staff of 42 skilled skaters undergoes special training that is far more detailed than you may imagine.
“The whole thing starts with me watching hours and hours of film, studying the characters — how they move, how close they stand to each other, their relationships with the other characters, their emotions during all the different scenes,” Vincent says.
Auditions are typically held throughout Europe and North America for a particular touring show. Disney on Ice currently has nine traveling shows.
“We hire not just figure skaters but sometimes hockey skaters and speed skaters,” Vincent says. “It all depends on the style, the movement, we need for the character. For instance for Frozone, a character in ‘The Incredibles’ known for his speed, we chose a speed skater.”
Choosing a great skater, however, is just part of the equation.
“When we cast someone, we’re also looking at how much they resemble the character and taking into consideration things like their relative heights,” she says. “For instance, with Belle and the Beast, we need to make sure the size difference looks right. A lot goes into finding the perfect match.”
Once a match is found, the real work begins.
“These skaters don’t typically come to us as actors,” Vincent says. “They’re athletes. We spent 51/2 weeks in rehearsals helping every cast member to truly become their character, to move like that character moves, down to the littlest details, and transform as that character transforms in different scenes. For instance, Mulan goes from a delicate, gorgeous solo in the song ‘Reflection’ to this tough, athletic character in the song ‘I’ll Make a Man Out of You.’ Both her personality and her physical movement change drastically.”
The biggest challenge, Vincent says, is to communicate a character’s feelings and emotions from what can be a considerable distance.
“It’s not like with a film, where you can zoom in, you can see the character’s eyes,” she says. “We have to rely on strong body language to make that connection with the audience.”
The choreography, the staging, every element comes into place during those intensive weeks of rehearsal. But the end result, Vincent says, is true Disney magic.
“Just seeing the kids — seeing their eyes light up as they see the characters they love come to life in front of them — it gets me every time,” she said.