ANAHEIM — The Wizard of Ice is at it again.
Kenneth Feld, who has produced more than a dozen kiddie-pleasing "Walt Disney's World on Ice" shows, has put a sharper edge on his presentation in "The Wizard of Oz on Ice."
Combining theatricality, grace, comedy and athleticism, this may be Feld's best ice spectacle yet, embracing an even wider audience than its Disney-fied kin.
Built by some of the same designers who turn out the "World on Ice" shows coupled with several big names in the skating and rock-theater touring circles, "Wizard on Ice" has the goods that have made Feld's name synonymous with splashy family entertainment: internationally known talent, extravagant visuals and well-loved characters.
All this and Toto too.
On opening night of the tour's Southern California swing Wednesday at the Pond of Anaheim, Toto shared the spotlight (and in some cases, stole it outright) with Jeri Campbell's fetching Dorothy, frolicking at his mistress' glittering heels throughout the show. (Toto, in case you were wondering, goes skateless. But don't fret about freezing feet; three cairn terriers alternate in the role during each performance).
From his skidding arrival in the opening scene, Toto's performance was a paws-down favorite with the younger crowd.
Not that there wasn't plenty to divert them.
With Dorothy, her famous traveling companions and the familiar story largely intact from the 1939 MGM film, the show follows their journey along the yellow brick road (here, an understated lighting effect) to the Emerald City, during which they ultimately discover that the answer to their various dreams lies--naturally--within.
Yet it's more than just a chilly rehash of the movie, thanks to choreography by Olympic gold medal-winning skater Robin Cousins, sophisticated sets by Mark Fisher, Frank Krenz's eye-popping costumes and voice-overs by singer Bobby ("Don't Worry, Be Happy") McFerrin, who supplies everybody's except Dorothy's. (Her dialogue and singing was recorded by Laurnea Wilkerson).
Campbell's Dorothy is fresh and lively and her solo turns are breathtaking but still retain the right girlishness for her character.
Because her character has no love interest, she doesn't have any romantic pair numbers, but you don't miss them a bit. Her brief duets with the Scarecrow, Tin Woodman and Cowardly Lion, especially in the closing scenes, are tender enough.
Though their solo turns tended to be too long, Brent Frank as the Tin Woodman and Andrei Kirov as the Scarecrow displayed impressive power and intricacy within their characters' parameters.
Mark Richard Farrington's Cowardly Lion was a hoot and a half. His sweeping turns and athletic leaps and flips were perfect enhancements for his character's bumbling bravado. Ensemble skaters were precise and polished, especially in the 24-member changing-of-the-guard number outside the gates of the Wicked Witch's castle.
And because no ice show apparently is complete without a few big pair numbers, director Jerry Bilik (a "World on Ice" veteran who adapted the story and music for this show) took a few liberties with the story to allow room for them.
Most memorable of those liberties: a dream sequence (while Dorothy and the others are asleep in the poppy field) during which Good Witch Glinda comes to the rescue with a couple of helpers: pair skaters Olga Neizvestnaya-Hunter and Serguei Zaitsev, who turn in a graceful, highly physical duet full of lifts and spins, all under a canopy of falling, soap-bubble snow.
Fisher's versatile two-level stage is set at one end of the arena and shows hints of 1930s architectural styles. It's dominated by a series of hydraulically powered chrome ramps arranged to create everything from the Wicked Witch's haunting digs to the wizard's grand palace.
Fisher also sends several characters aloft via a complicated track system a good 37 feet above the arena floor. Effects borrowed from past "World on Ice" files are less original: a massive balloon, used here as a "talking" Wizard head, and the liberal use of pyrotechnics are impressive but a bit cheesy in comparison to the rest of the visuals.
Krenz's costumes--reportedly inspired more by the illustrations in L. Frank Baum's book than the Judy Garland film--are sheer delight.
* "The Wizard of Oz on Ice," the Pond of Anaheim, 2695 E. Katella Ave. Shows continue today at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at noon, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1 and 5 p.m. $10.50-$16.50; limited rinkside seating at $30. (714) 704-2500 or (714) 740-2000 (Ticketmaster). It moves to the Long Beach Arena from March 27-31 and the Los Angeles Sports Arena from April 3-7). Running time: 2 hours.