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Feld Entertainment
The lead skaters in "High School Musical: The Ice Tour."

"Disney's High School Musical" franchise can be summed up in three words — an entertainment phenomenon.

Two made-for-TV (and filmed in Utah) movies have garnered huge ratings. Then there are the spin-offs — a concert tour, a full-scale Broadway-style stage production (coming to Utah next year), and not one but three separate ice-tour companies — two domestic North American tours and a third company scheduled to play in South America, Europe and Australia.

The West Coast version of this tour is coming to EnergySolutions Arena next week. Three choreographers — one of whom had worked alongside Kenny Ortega in choreographing the two original Disney Channel movies — were brought on board by Feld Entertainment to transfer the dance routines from the movies to the ice rink.

This creative trio is comprised of internationally renowned skaters Cindy Stewart and Douglas Webster (who has some Salt Lake City ties from the 2002 Winter Olympics), and one of Ortega's proteges, Charles "Chucky" Klapow.

During separate telephone interviews, Stewart, Webster and Klapow told of their experiences in putting the ice shows together.

Klapow said he had "so much fun" working in Utah on the two "High School Musical" movies. "That whole region of dancers is incredible. We used all locals for both films — more than 200 dancers."

He said Ortega asked if he'd like to choreograph the show. "But I'd never skated before. He said I could teach them the moves on the studio floor, but when we got into the pre-production work, it killed me to just stand on the side of the rink yelling out instructions.

"I put on ice skates for the first time in my life in Los Angeles, and for one month I worked with Cindy and Doug. It was pretty tricky, but because of my dance background, they helped me adapt. Skaters are disciplined in their dancing on ice. They're aware of their bodies and they are classically trained. Their movement is more sharp, and they're so professional and focused."

Stewart explained that the basic choreography was taught in Los Angeles to 102 skaters (34 in each of the three casts), before moving everyone to Lakeland, Fla., and Tampa, Fla., for rehearsing the show on the ice. "We had 85 percent of the show choreographed and ready to teach when we went to Florida. Chucky was very adept on the ice. He really took to it and loved it. He didn't want to be stuck on the sidelines, and it was exciting to have him in the middle of the rink."

Webster has worked with Stewart on various "Disney on Ice" shows over the past five years. "We had so much fun and that spirit really shows in the 'Ice Tour' shows," Webster said. "Feld Entertainment's perfectionism reflects in the way their productions are mounted. There are many cogs in the wheel but it's a well-oiled machine."

Stewart, who is 44, has a background in skating, ballet and modern dance. "Being the great teacher that he is, 27-year-old Chucky made me feel so much younger. The energy and the choreography of the 'High School Musical' dances made me feel like a rock star."

Klapow added, "I'd never been involved in such a grueling schedule. We were working 10 to 12 hours a day, six days a week, with more than 100 skaters, but they are so passionate, and it was exciting to work with them."

It was tricky taking the film routines and putting them on ice, Klapow said. "Kids in the audience know all the words and they dance along in the aisles. They're coming to see 'High School Musical,' but on a new surface, and we had to stay true to that.

"Ice rinks are so big compared to what audiences see on a TV screen. The seating (in the arenas) is all around, so we had to turn the choreography around to face different directions and keep it moving, so it doesn't stay static. You can tap-dance on ice but the footwork is different."

He also explained that the "High School Musical" show is far different from other "Disney on Ice" productions: There are no skaters based on animated cartoon characters — all of the skaters have the look and energy of high school teenagers. Also, one of the central characters (who narrates the show) uses a live microphone, something never before done in the "Disney on Ice" shows.

Klapow said that Ortega "is a huge mentor as both a director and choreographer," and Ortega was taught by Gene Kelly, one of the great dancers from the golden age of Hollywood musicals. No surprise then that Klapow got hooked on dancing after his grandmother showed him Kelly's classic "Singing in the Rain." "I've been lucky to grow up in the right place and the right time."

Young audiences today "... are missing that fun and innocence of old, and it's been fun to bring that back," Klapow said.

If you go

What: "Disney's High School Musical: The Ice Tour"

Where: EnergySolutions Arena, 301 W. South Temple

When: Thursday through Nov. 18

How much: $15-$55

Phone: 325-7328

Web site: www.ticketmaster.com

Also: Selected Albertsons, Macy's or f.y.e. stores


E-mail: [email protected]