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ENTERTAINMENT REVIEW : 'Walt Disney's World on Ice' Is Holiday Treat for Young and Old

December 28, 1987|CHARLES SOLOMON

With its flashy musical numbers and familiar cartoon characters, "Walt Disney's World on Ice," which opened Friday night at the Anaheim Convention Center, will appeal to young and old, but not necessarily to everyone in between.

"Disney's World on Ice" is an ideal holiday treat for elementary-school children, although their older siblings may dismiss it as kid stuff.

Mickey Mouse serves as emcee, introducing an array of Disney characters who emerge from the giant books in a library. When Mickey begins to read his favorite story, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the skaters enact it.

Although Mickey stresses the value of reading, it is chiefly through television and films, rather than books, that most of the children in the audience know Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, Mowgli, the White Rabbit--and Mickey.

The familiar "Snow White" fairy tale is reduced to a framework for the elaborate production numbers: A sinister corps of trees that glow under the black lights pursue Snow White when she flees into the forest. The figures from the clock in the Dwarfs' cottage come to life to dance and skate. A troop of bats and spiders attend the Queen as she works her black magic. Snow White's wedding to the Prince serves as a finale, with the royal couple standing atop a multitiered wedding cake.

The narrative sequences that tie the numbers together move rather slowly, and the show might be more effective as a series of vignettes and skits for various Disney characters.

The show would also gain credibility had the producers shown more attention to detail in researching the 1937 Disney film on which it is based: The narration proclaims "Snow White" to be "the world's first full-length animated cartoon," but that distinction belongs to a 1917 Argentine film, "The Apostle."

The choreography showcases the talents of the well-trained athletes in the cast, sometimes at the expense of the story. As the Queen's Huntsman, Jimmie Santee steals the show with a virtuoso array of stunts, climaxing with a back flip. Sheldon Cleaves performs the rapid spins of the Handsome Prince with polished assurance, but he can't match Santee's muscular bravura--which leaves the audience wondering why Snow White (Jamie-Lynn Kitching) didn't choose the more dashing suitor.

As the voice of Mickey Mouse, Jack Wagner can barely approximate Mickey's falsetto tones; as a result, the world's most famous mouse sounds as if he's caught cold on the ice. Because most of the score consists of arrangements of Disney tunes, it's a bit jarring to hear the small, hard-working orchestra break into "Edelweiss," "The Lichtensteiner Polka" and snatches of Tchaikovsky's "Romeo and Juliet."

But "Disney's World on Ice" is certainly pretty to look at: Reid Carlson's sets suggest a moving pop-up book by Maurice Sendak. The sparkling costumes by Jose Lengson accent the skaters' movements without impeding them--the bat-like capes that supply the extra arms for the spiders are particularly effective. Melanie Scott changes from the Evil Queen to the Wicked Witch in an astonishingly rapid transformation behind a thin veil of smoke. It's a genuinely magical moment.

The familiar characters delighted the children Saturday afternoon. They shouted greetings to Mickey, laughed at the pratfalls, cheered the spectacular leaps Michael Lettengraver and Darin Matthewson took over the crouched figures of the Dwarfs and screamed at Snow White not to bite the poisoned apple when the Witch offered it to her.

One caveat for parents: If your seats are in the first few rows, take jackets and/or a stadium blanket. A cold breeze comes off the ice, and you may find yourself wondering how Mowgli can stand to skate in little more than swimming trunks.

"Walt Disney's World on Ice" continues at the Anaheim Convention Center through Wednesday, moves to the Los Angeles Sports Arena, Friday through Jan. 12, and concludes its Southern California run at the Long Beach Arena, Jan. 14-17. Show times at Anaheim: 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $6 to $10.50. Information: (714) 999-8900.

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