This review starts in the byline. Usually when I review a circus or an ice show, I use the standard "staff writer" byline, or even "entertainment writer." But I have intentionally chosen to use my "theater critic" label this time, because that's what this year's edition of "Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom on Ice," which opened Wednesday at the Salt Palace, is.
Pure theater.Sure, there's plenty of producer Kenneth Feld's trademark pageantry, with flashy costumes and special effects and, of course, appearances by all of your favorite Walt Disney characters from Mickey Mouse to Donald Duck. And there's also all the skating brilliance you'd expect to see in a national touring ice show.
But this year the skating has been interwoven into a well-executed production of the Disney version of the Italian folk tale, "Pinocchio." Indeed, the focus here is on storytelling, with skating performances coming almost as an afterthought - an entertaining recipe that really seemed to work as far as my family and I were concerned.
National professional skating champion J. Scott Driscoll stars here as Pinocchio, and his performance is the solid foundation upon which the show is built. Facially and physically, he does an outstanding job of capturing the spirit of the marionette who comes to life in dear old Geppetto's workshop. And when he's given a chance to cut loose on the ice, he presents some of the evening's most polished, energetic skating.
Also sparkling in a pseudo-dramatic role is Shannon Sowers, who is lovely and lithe as Pinocchio's heroine, the Blue Fairy. She gives the show a magical presence whenever she appears in a role that is reminiscent of the featured skating role of previous "Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom on Ice" incarnations. Here she's just a supporting part - but she's strong support.
The most memorable skating performances of the evening, however, are turned in by a couple of skating teams that also appear in supporting roles dramatically. The pair of Toyka Raol and Eric Kerr is absolutely stunning in two spotlight solos. Their second appearance, as goldfish helping Pinocchio underwater, is especially exciting, as it ends with some incredible - even frightening - spins and turns.
But if you took a poll in the opening night audience Wednesday, I'd bet the clear-cut favorites were The Jackpots, a comedy skating trio from England that takes center stage several times. Mixing athletic skating prowess with daredevil trickery and some superbly timed comedy, these guys will leave you laughing (and a little wet if you sit close to rinkside).
Cheers should also go to the skaters who manage to stay on their feet and emote believably while packaged inside those Disney character costumes. And to members of the skating chorus who are able to keep smiles on their faces while going through paces they could probably go through with their eyes closed. And to costumer Jose Lengson for his dazzling, colorful creations. And to scenic designer Reid Carlson for a set that is a marvel of functional mobility. And to choreographer Bob Paul, who has created a series of delightful routines that make up in artistic interpretation what they may lack in degree of difficulty.
And let's don't forget ice show vice president Richard L. Haskell, who deserves mention for his overall orchestration of the show - and for the fact that he hails from Salt Lake. (We won't hold it against him that he has opted for the empty sound of canned music this year instead of a live orchestra.)
Of course, the lion's share (or, in the case of a Walt Disney show, the mouse's share) of the credit should go to writer/director Jerry Bilik, who has created a delightful entertainment that moves swiftly and with purpose from the opening overture until the final bows. Beautifully balanced and technically precise, this "Magic Kingdom on Ice" is indeed magical.