With its flashy musical numbers and familiar cartoon characters, "Walt Disney's World on Ice" at the Anaheim Convention Center will appeal to young and old, but not necessarily to everyone in between.
Mickey Mouse serves as emcee, introducing an array of Disney characters who emerge from the giant books in a library. Although he stresses the value of reading, most of the children in the audience know Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan, Mowgli, the White Rabbit--and Mickey himself--from films and television, rather than books. When Mickey begins to read his favorite story, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," the skaters enact it.
The familiar fairy tale is reduced to a framework for the elaborate production numbers: A sinister corps of trees that glow under the black lights pursues 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 troupe of bats and spiders attends 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 tiered 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 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.
The show would benefit from more careful attention to the Disney films on which it's based. "Snow White" was not "the world's first full-length animated cartoon," as the narration proclaims. Voice actor Jack Wagner can barely approximate Mickey's falsetto tones and the world's most famous mouse sounds as if he's caught cold on the ice. As 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."
"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 batlike 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 in the audience 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. "Disney's World on Ice" is an ideal holiday treat for elementary schoolchildren.
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, then moves to the Los Angeles Sports Arena New Year's Day through Jan. 12 and concludes its Southern California run at the Long Beach Arena Jan. 14-17.