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With a Bit of Magic, ‘Aladdin’ Flies on Ice

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You thought your kids’ “Aladdin” fever has passed. Since last summer’s release of “The Lion King,” your dutiful Disney fans have purged their toy boxes of foam genie heads and Jasmine harem pants in favor of Pride Rock play sets and stuffed Simbas.

Hold on, pilgrim. Don’t shake the dust of Agrabah from your feet just yet.

The good folks at Kenneth Feld Productions have skated into town with yet another incarnation of Walt Disney’s 1992 blockbuster: “Walt Disney’s World on Ice--Aladdin,” an opulent two-hour ice spectacle that retells the familiar tale with a kid-pleasing combination of special effects, comedy and romance. The show continues through Monday at The Pond of Anaheim.

How, you may ask, can this Middle-Eastern-flavored tale about a desert “street rat” and his magic lamp be presented with any degree of credibility on the chilly surface of the ice? In the movie, Aladdin never puts on a sweater, let alone skates. How far can we be asked to suspend our disbelief?

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The answer, judging from the audience’s response at Saturday’s matinee, is not far at all. The reason? Although there are scattered moments in which the principal skaters in this 45-member cast get to show off their expertise, the fact is that unlike that other touring ice show, Dorothy Hamill’s Ice Capades, here it is the story, not the skating, that gets center stage.

In fact, with the addition of designer Robert Little’s new bilevel set, several scenes in the World on Ice show aren’t even played on the ice. On a stage atop the proscenium, the skaters act out a number of scenes, including Aladdin’s descent into the Cave of Wonders and his magic carpet flight from Jasmine’s balcony, which rely on props and technical effects (think massive uses of foam rubber and inflatables) and on the performer’s acting ability rather than skating.

Ice-skating fans aren’t left out in the cold. The show’s choreographers frequently weave skating feats into the story line to good effect, and the cast includes award-winning amateur and professional athletes.

Early on, a trio of Jasmine’s suitors attempts to catch her eye by performing increasingly complicated rolls, loops and spins. When she flees the palace, she finds herself in a public marketplace bustling with activity.

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This scene is punctuated by some masterful acrobatic skating by an ensemble from the Moscow Circus on Ice, who incorporate teeterboards, trampolines and stilts on skates at points throughout the show. It’s too bad we don’t see more of these guys; keep an eye out for them during the parade of Prince Ali’s royal entourage.

Starring as Aladdin and Jasmine are Jaimee Eggleton and Cynthia Coull--he’s a former member of the Olympic figure-skating team, she’s a bronze medal winner in the World Figure Skating Championships. They have some cozy moments on the ice together in pairs numbers that are both romantic and athletic. Topping the list is the “Whole New World” scene, in which the twosome’s short ride on a magic carpet (a small platform that soars a good 15 feet above the surface of the ice) segues to an impressive program of lifts and spins.

Generally speaking, this “Aladdin” sticks pretty close to the movie script, up to and including the recorded dialogue that features the film’s original voice-over actors. After a slapstick opening by the peddler/storyteller (comic actor Jimmie Santee, who doubles in the role of the genie), the tale of an optimistic beggar transported with the help of a magical genie and his love for a beautiful, headstrong princess basically matches the film nearly scene for scene.

There are occasional detours, mostly when the movie’s animated effects couldn’t adequately be re-created on the ice. Even with Feld’s ample resources (his company also produces the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and Vegas illusionists Siegfried and Roy), any live show would be hard pressed to duplicate the animated wizardry of the genie or, harder still, the lightning-quick verbal humor brought to the character by actor Robin Williams.

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Although it sometimes means bending the story a little, the show gamely attempts to re-create the movie’s wackier moments with production numbers that blend finely tuned ensemble skating with outlandish costumes and props (look for the inflatable peacock in the “Friend Like Me” number).

The translation from movie to live show doesn’t work as well in the story’s quieter moments, even though they are echoed in the performers’ skating styles. Aladdin’s and Jasmine’s lovey-dovey gaze and Jafar’s sinister stare just can’t carry across a massive arena the way they can on screen.

Santee, an 11-season veteran with the company, has a good grip on the Genie, using many Robin Williams-inspired gestures and posturings. He is an accomplished comedic skater, but there are moments when his character gets bogged down by the designers’ attempts to visually re-create the movie; particularly the genie’s underwater rescue of Aladdin.

Likewise, as Jafar, veteran skater David Browne is confined by his character’s conjurings. Browne’s skating is upstaged frequently by whiz-bang special effects that, although they seemed to thrill the kids, left at least this adult hoping for something with a bit more substance.

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The show’s finale, a reprise of the “Friend Like Me” number, in which 30 identically costumed skaters perform chorus formations like pinwheel and cut-back circle, should be a refreshing blast from the past for adults who were weaned on the Ice Capades variety-style shows of yore.

* “Walt Disney’s World on Ice--Aladdin” continues through Monday at The Pond of Anaheim, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim. Performances are tonight at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at noon, 3:30 and 7:30 p.m., Sunday and Monday at 1 and 5 p.m. $10.50 to $16.50; limited rink-side seating available for an additional charge. (714) 704-2500 or (714) 740-2000 (Ticketmaster). The show moves to the Long Beach Arena (300 E. Ocean Blvd.) Jan. 18-22. (310) 436-3661.


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