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REVIEW : 'Beauty and the Beast' Doesn't Slip on the Ice


"Walt Disney's World on Ice Presents Beauty and the Beast" may not be the snappiest show title to come down the pike, but given the two-hour extravaganza that has been playing at Southland arenas, its clarity is undeniable.

Produced by Kenneth Feld, the honcho behind the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, this show is just what the title suggests: with few exceptions, it re-creates the 1991 Disney film to a T.

The story is the same, the characters are the same, the Academy Award-winning Howard Ashman-Alan Menken score is the same. Even most of the prerecorded voices are the same, up to and including Robby Benson as the gravel-voiced Beast.

So why schlep out to a chilly arena when you can enjoy the video in the comfort of your own La-Z-Boy?

For starters, the ice show format adds a romantic sheen and an extra measure of drama that animation, no matter how slick, can't match. For example, when Belle, skated by Maradith Feinberg, sings wistfully of wanting "so much more than this provincial life," she glides and swirls dreamily across the full length of the arena.

When she and the love-struck Beast waltz, they seem to float above the surface of the ice--no mean feat considering the bulky, seven-foot-tall costume that skater Craig Horowitz wears.

For Mickeyphiles, there's the de rigueur visit from the mouse and his gang, who open the show in an unrelated musical skit that involves a few young members of the audience.

The bad guys take on extra chill on the ice. As Gaston, the consummate village baddie, Russian singles skater Victor Barshevtsev swoops and leaps menacingly, and delivers frequent flying kicks to his lackey LeFou (Joe Daysog), who obliges with belly flops into the front row.

And the two wolves that lurk in the dark forest outside the Beast's castle are made more threatening by athletic, almost violent lifts and throws of Russian pair skaters Olga Neizvestnaya and Sergei Zaitsev.

If you're not familiar with the Disney film, be forewarned that it bears only a passing resemblance to the original folk tale about a beautiful and loyal daughter who voluntarily takes her father's place as prisoner in the castle of a mysterious beast, and with her love, eventually breaks the spell that binds him.

In Disney's hands, the hexed servants are transformed into household objects ranging from an amorous candlestick to a peevish mantle clock, and the whole lot of them have a convenient taste for splashy production numbers.

Most of the film's big numbers are re-created here, notably the "Be Our Guest" scene, in which Belle is entertained by a Ziegfield-style show of dinnerware. Chorus skaters decked out to resemble table settings bundled in glittering napkins and even fully laden tables perform standard ice-follies moves for Belle's entertainment, and cap it off with a full-scale can-can.

Lest you think this silver is just for show, in the second act these same characters team up with other home accessories in a choreographed brawl with the villagers who storm the castle.

Although the skaters they employ are certainly skilled, Walt Disney's World on Ice emphasizes spectacle and storytelling, not skating. If you prefer a showcase for professional-level figure skating, you are better off with something like the new Dorothy Hamill's Ice Capades.

There are times in this show when the skating and storytelling become uncomfortable partners, such as a tavern scene in which Neizvestnaya and Zaitsev perform an athletic ice dance. It is impressive to behold, but nevertheless seems out of place and interrupts the pacing.

Still, the marriage is more successful than in previous "World on Ice" shows, like last year's "Double Feature," which relied heavily on a wham-bam variety-show format and technical effects.

In fact, although it cost $6 million to produce (reportedly the most expensive of the past dozen World on Ice shows until being eclipsed by "Aladdin," which comes to the Southland next year), this show is fairly light on Vegas-type pyrotechnics, and much kinder to the senses.

The show runs today through Monday at the Los Angeles Sports Arena and Wednesday through Jan.23 at the Long Beach Arena.

* "Walt Disney's World on Ice Presents Beauty and the Beast" will be performed Wednesday and Jan. 20, at 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 21 at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m.; Jan. 22-23 at noon, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. at the Long Beach Arena, 300 E. Ocean Blvd.; $9.50 to $15.50, limited rink-side seating available for $30. (310) 436-3661, (714) 740-2000 or (213) 480-3232.

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