Broadway on Ice

Last week I went to Branson, MO to see the show "Broadway on Ice" that is playing at the Andy Williams theatre there. This is a theater-style ice show on a small tank ice surface installed on the stage, with a rotating cast of guest stars throughout the season. The star for the two shows I caught was Nancy Kerrigan; Tara Lipinski is taking her place this week, and later in the summer they've booked Rudy Galindo, Rosalyn Sumners, and others. The featured skaters in the regular cast were Michael Chack, Florentine Houdiniere, a dance team Chantal and Justin, and Olga and Alexei, a Russian adagio pair. Unfortunately, I didn't catch everyone's surnames. (There were no printed programs.) Other skaters involved in the production who I recognized were Chris Nolan, Paul Guerrero, and Trey Ehre.

Branson is a kind of unlikely setting for an ice show. I'm told there isn't a year-round, full-sized ice surface anywhere in the area. Michael Chack described Branson to me as "Las Vegas without the casinos", but I'd say it's just a big, overdeveloped tourist trap in the Ozark hill country that has pretty much overwhelmed the natural outdoor attractions of the region, as well as the roads and infrastructure in the area. Be prepared to get stuck in traffic jams! Also be warned that the heat and humidity can be very uncomfortable in this part of the country in the summer.

On a weekday in May, it seemed that most of the tourists were senior citizens -- I felt like I was the only person in the audience who didn't have gray hair -- but apparently once the summer season really starts, Branson attracts more of a family audience. Besides being the oldest audience I've ever seen at a skating event, I think it was also probably the whitest.

The show itself is a mixture of skating and musical variety acts. The ice surface on the stage is quite small, and was made even smaller by the backdrops and flats in the wings, and by the various large props used in several of the numbers. With a lot of skaters on the stage at once, their movement was necessarily limited even further. In general, the skaters did a lot of skating around in circles, as there wasn't enough room to do anything else with any speed at all. On the positive side, the staging and lighting looked very professional. The theatre is also really nice and the seats are really close to the stage (but watch out that you don't get a seat in the front row, or you won't be able to see the skaters' feet over the front of the stage).

The show started with skaters circling in the dark to the sounds of their blades, then Nancy came out and did some footwork and an open axel and a scratch spin, with the rest of the cast posing in the background. She gave a little speech welcoming people to the show (in between puffing and panting for breath), then the first number was to "On The Town" with the cast in fuschia, orange, red, and black. The principals all had little solo pieces in this as they were introduced.

The first solo was Olga & Alexei skating to music that I believe was sung by Colm Wilkinson (sorry, it sounded familiar, but I'm hopeless at identifying non-classical music). Typical adagio pair stuff, with a lot of lifts. I observed generally throughout the show that they do a lot of Detroiter variations -- one that's done in a hip-lift star position, one where Olga is in a face-up position being supported by her back, and, most amusingly, a couple different variations where she was being supported by a grip on her crotch. They were actually quite good.

Next was "Wilkommen" from "Cabaret", featuring Paul Guerrero with a group of 6 girls in flapper dresses who did more standing around posing than skating. This was supposed to be Chris Nolan's piece, but he got injured and Paul was rushed into the role in his place. He's an old pro and looked very comfortable with it -- there was a lot of mime and lip-synching dialogue, and he did a triple salchow, half-loops(?) in opposite directions, footwork and a stag jump, a back flip, and a spin combination.

After this, there was a medley from "Chicago". Chantal & Justin skated to the same piece used by Nussear & Forsyth for their free dance this past season, with a bunch of hydroblading moves and dance lifts. Then there was a group number with girls dressed in black lace teddies and the boys in striped shirts, vests, bow-ties, and hats. Florentine had a solo with the ensemble posing in the background, then Michael had a piece where he did more miming and jumping around on a pool table prop than skating.

Then there was another section of ensemble numbers to "Hey Big Spender" and "We're In the Money", which included a tap dancer jumping around on a large platform prop that was pushed around by the skaters, and ended with the full cast skating in line upstage and then going into a pinwheel formation.

Next up, Maggie LeMay came out to sing -- she did three pieces, one from "Gypsy", one from "Funny Girl", and ended with "Don't Cry For Me Argentina". She's quite good. For people who wonder how she can walk around on the ice in high heels without falling, she has spikes in her shoes.

Nancy was introduced with a video montage and skated a version of the "Starlight Express" program she's had in her repertoire for a while. She was wearing a black dress with spaghetti straps and an asymmetric black illusion cut-out on the midriff. She did a double axel, triple toe, various spins, spirals, etc. She seemed comfortable fitting this stuff in on the small ice, and she looks very fit and is skating well.

The last part of the first act was a kind of punk medley from "West Side Story" skated by the group, with a piece with a lyric like "Seasons of Love" that had solo pieces for the principals. Olga & Alexei did another Detroiter variation, Florentine did a double axel, Michael did a death drop, Chantal & Justin did some more hydroblading, etc.

The second act started with an ensemble piece to "O Fortuna" with the skaters doing a lot of dramatic flapping of voluminous black capes, while pushing large candle props around on the ice. Then Olga & Alexei did a solo to "Music of the Night", during which the people in capes came back and flapped some more. OK, it looked dramatic, but they weren't doing much skating.

After this, a dude named Eric Hamlin played the piano -- "Slaughter on 10th Avenue", and then a solo piano arrangement of "Rhapsody in Blue" in which various skaters joined him on stage to skate around the piano. Then we were treated to Nancy's singing, while Michael skated around and did a triple toe, etc. Nancy didn't seem to be taking herself too seriously, and while her singing wasn't actively unpleasant, she obviously does not have a trained singing voice.

Next there was a Gershwin medley with Eric playing the piano and Maggie singing. Nancy skated, doing a triple toe and double lutz, with spirals and spread eagles. She was wearing a white sparkly dress for this section. Trey Ehre had a solo piece while Maggie sang "My One and Only", Eric played "Walking the Dog" while a trio skated, and Florentine & Michael skated a duet with a lot of neat mirror skating (Michael is a reverse jumper) to "I Got Rhythm".

Nancy came back to introduce the closing Broadway medley, doing a double axel, double flip with her hands on her hips, more spread eagles, etc. For this bit she was wearing a black and white halter top and black tap pants.

The rest of the cast was wearing red and white outfits in various styles. More group numbers to "Give My Regards to Broadway", "42nd Street", "Broadway Baby", etc. Florentine did a solo to "I Dreamed a Dream" (sung by Maggie), Olga & Alexei and Chantal & Justin did a challenge dance to "I Can Do That", and Michael did "Yankee Doodle Dandy" with a triple toe and double axel -- this solo got the biggest audience reaction of the entire show (other than Nancy's solo numbers), I thought.

Michael was telling me after the show that this kind of program isn't really "him" at all, but that part of being a pro is being able to act in any kind of role. The one real difference I noticed in his skating from past years is that, while I've always found him to be a charismatic performer, he used to be more inwardly focused in his presentation, and now he is playing much more to the audience.

I also talked a little with Chris Nolan, the performance director of the show. According to Chris, this is a revival of a show that was originally choreographed by Sarah Kawahara back in 1982 or so, with some new pieces (including the punk "West Side Story" and the "Chicago" bits) choreographed by Cindy Stuart. They had 3 weeks rehearsals to put the show together, with some additional changes being made as the guest stars rotate in and out. Chris said that Nancy came 2 days early to re-work her "Starlight Express" program for the small ice and for them to choreograph her other pieces for the show.

All in all, I'd say that anyone who goes to this show expecting to see really sophisticated skating or choreography is probably going to be disappointed. It's really more of a traditional musical variety show with skating. On the other hand, the show is entertaining, has a competent cast and good production values, and I think it's a good match for the kind of audiences that it's likely to attract in Branson. After all, most people go to Branson expecting to see musical variety shows, and expecting to be entertained by popular standards rather than to be challenged by cutting-edge dance choreography or music.

Photos and video

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Click on the thumbnails to see bigger versions.

Chantal and Justin skate to music from "Chicago".
Some of the cast doing "We're in the Money".
The punk "West Side Story" number. Michael Chack and Olga & Alexei in the front row.
"Music of the Night", with Olga & Alexei and the people in capes.
Eric Hamlin with Nancy Kerrigan.
Michael skates while Nancy sings.
Maggie LeMay sings.
Click here to see a Quicktime video clip of Michael Chack skating "Yankee Doodle Dandy". Watch out.... it's huge, 4.2 megabytes.

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