By BRUCE DENNILL
Disney On Ice: Let’s Celebrate! / The Dome, Johannesburg
The Disney phenomenon – the fact that the company is more or less entrusted with creating and sustaining magic for children around the world – means that any product it creates has a curious cachet. On one hand, there’s an expectation of quality and on the other there’s a fierce brand protection that can sometimes leave if not a bitter then a stale taste in the mouth.
Johannesburg arena the Dome was overhauled for Disney On Ice: Let’s Celebrate!, with the rink in the middle of the venue surrounded by towering, steeply banked seating rather than the usual, fairly flat arrangement where visibility is limited. This is in itself an exciting development as, if this show was a test case, it paves the way for the Dome to be used as the home of a far greater range of events than is currently possible – sports such basketball and circus or other performance events where in the round spectator set-ups are preferable among them. The only shortfall is that ticket holders seated close to the curtains separating the backstage area from view don’t get direct view of some of the action and lose out on the effectiveness of some of the presentation as a result.
In visual terms, the production is very impressive, as you’d expect from a company with its foundations in animation. The costumes are bright, colourful and detailed and there are regular pyrotechnics, huge swathes of fabric that drop from the flies and impressive lighting arrangements. Each scene also includes a number of on-ice props, some of which are mechanised, that add to choreography in some way.
Sadly, the script that’s supposed to link everything is abysmal, tenuous at best and awkward at worst, leaving large gaps that the cast simply can’t fill, whatever they do, as scenarios play themselves out, often too sluggishly.
All that is best about the show is a result of the efforts of the cast. Their synching to complicated musical routines and extensive voice-overs is notable, but their collective skating prowess is remarkable, and central to whatever success the piece enjoys beyond acting as a delivery vehicle for the patented Disney magic, which is somehow absorbed by the youngsters in the audience from the minute they sit down.
The skaters dance as well or better than trained professionals operating on dance mats, and their complicated lifts – often sustained for more than ten seconds, while spinning and with blades waving around near faces and carotid arteries – are enough to make observers shake their heads in disbelief. A greater focus on this great strength would make this production a more exciting drawcard for older audiences, but it might dilute the more direct, squeaky-voiced narrative that the kids find easiest to understand.
What anyone of any age should find difficult to understand is the submitting of audiences to the unapologetic avarice evident in the merchandising. Key example: R90 for a portion of popcorn that’s already a rip-off at a third of the price from a cinema concession stand.