The weather outside was dreary and drizzly, but it couldn't dampen the spirits of the youngsters, particularly little girls, who eagerly turned out to see the stories of three plucky princesses play out Thursday night at the Oklahoma State Fair.
Two newcomers to Disney's royal court — Rapunzel and Tiana — and longstanding Mouse House favorite Cinderella put their fairy tales of romance, adventure and wonder on ice as “Disney on Ice presents Dare to Dream” skated into Jim Norick State Fair Arena for the opening night of the 2012 fair.
An annual favorite, the Disney ice escapades will continue at the fair with nine more performances through Tuesday. Although Oklahoma City audiences won't get to see all the production is intended to show – the widely praised aerial sequences are conspicuously absent - “Dare to Dream” still boasts plenty of royal moments - and one hilarious horse named Maximus - to enchant children, especially young girls.
“Dare to Dream” features abbreviated versions of the 1950 animated feature “Cinderella,” the 2009 movie “The Princess and the Frog” and the 2010 film “Tangled.” Like other “Disney on Ice” compilations, it pares the stories down to their basic plot points, most memorable songs and most striking visuals, assuming that attendees have already seen the movies or will just be too captivated to care if they don't quite follow the speedy storytelling.
State Fair Arena was about two-thirds full of eager young princesses in pink foam crowns, boys and girls wielding plastic lanterns equipped with strobe lights, and children noshing rainbow-hued snow cones from Mickey Mouse mugs. (Running the gauntlet of vendors peddling pricey plastic toys is just another part of the Disney tradition.)
Disney’s “Fabulous Four” — Mickey and Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy, who appear between each segment to guide viewers into the next princess tale — opened the show in jazzy fashion by marching into the arena to the tune “When the Saints Go Marching In.” The bouncy bayou beat of "Down in New Orleans” got my 2-year-old daughter and several other tots out of their seats and dancing as it set the stage for “The Princess and the Frog,” which takes place in The Big Easy in the Jazz Era.
Attendees got their first look at the show's ingenious stage design as the giant purple flower-adorned crown dominating the ice split and opened to reveal a two-story townhouse that looked like it had been transported straight from 1920s Bourbon Street. By rotating and unfolding in different ways, the set later morphed into the familiar Cinderella castle and Rapunzel's tall tower.
While Tiana, Disney’s first black animated princess, has been portrayed in other ice shows, “Dare to Dream” incorporates more of “The Princess and the Frog.” After lingering over the jaunty first musical number, the 30-minutes-or-less rendition of the story quickly introduced the heroine, a hard-working young waitress determined to open her own restaurant, and Prince Naveen, the pampered heir to the throne of the fictional country of Maldonia. When the cavalier Naveen crosses paths with a voodoo practitioner called the Shadow Man, he is dramatically transformed into a large frog.
At a masquerade ball in the prince's honor, Tiana, dressed as a princess, encounters Naveen in his new form as a talking frog – depicted by a artfully designed puppet – who convinces her to kiss him in the hopes it will break the spell. Instead, Tiana turns amphibian, too. With the help of a musical crocodile named Louis and a romantic firefly named Ray, the mismatched frogs hop through the bayou on a mission to track down kindly voodoo priestess Mama Odie in the hopes she can make them human again.
While “Disney on Ice” costumes are always impeccable, designers Ivan Ingermann and Gregg Barnes have outdone themselves with “The Princess and the Frog.” Not only do characters like Mama Odie and Louis bear uncanny resemblance to their cinematic counterparts, but the spoonbills that flock together in the “Dig a Little Deeper” number are stunning with their shimmering pink wings.
To play Tiana and Naveen in their frog form, skaters Soniah Spence and Deryck Szatkowski donned skintight green suits intricately patterned with green, brown and yellow to call to mind a real amphibian's skin. Plus, without the usual fluffy skirts and heroic capes in their way, the athletic pair was able to perform jaw-dropping lifts and spins, pulling off some of the most impressive couples skating I can recall in nearly a decade of covering “Disney on Ice.”
All the duos in the production proved first-rate skaters, with the couples depicting Cinderella and Prince Charming and Rapunzel and Flynn Rider executing their share of gasp-worthy moments, too.
Once Tiana and Naveen got their human happily-ever-after, the stage was reset for Cinderella, and one of Disney's most venerable princesses showed her story still can mesmerize audiences after all these years. Her wicked stepsisters almost stole the show as their mean-spirited antics translated on the ice into over-the-top pratfalls, and children were audibly delighted by the appearance of the benevolent mice, portrayed by skaters in human-scale costumes.
But the Fairy Godmother really brought the Disney magic. With a flick of her wand, a dramatic bang and some brilliant production design, she “"Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo"-ed a pumpkin into Cinderella's coach, with the elegantly dressed damsel already inside. As skaters cannily costumed as horses "pulled" the coach around the ice, children and even many adults couldn't resist waving to the fair maiden on her way to the ball.
About halfway through the segment, I realized my 5-year-old son had never seen the movie, and he was enthralled by it, despite his impatience to get to the “Tangled” part. For him, intermission was a bit of a cliffhanger, since he had to wait for the start of the second half to see if the glass slipper would reunite Cinderella and her prince.
But most of the second act was devoted to the “Disney on Ice” debut of Rapunzel, who lets down her hair for the first time in “Dare to Dream.” Despite the entertaining storyline, witty humor and adventurous princess, getting “Tangled” up with Rapunzel's story wasn't as exciting as I had hoped.
Like some other venues on the tour, State Fair Arena unfortunately cannot accommodate the rigging equipment required for the segment's big aerial sequences, according to a spokeswoman for “Disney on Ice” producers Feld Entertainment. That means Oklahoma City audiences won't get got see Rapunzel and her unlikely love interest Flynn Rider soar through the air on her seemingly endless strands of luminous hair, as depicted in the souvenir program, promotional materials and other reviews of the show. Even folks who don't know that the aerial sequences are supposed to be there (like my husband) will sense something is missing: A pulley system near the ceiling doled out yard after yard of golden fabric representing those flowing locks, but it all just hung there for the entire show, which features too many moments of Rapunzel (Kendra Moyle) and Flynn (Joseph Jacobsen) just skating around being chased by nothing.
Still, the ice show, like the film, has its lighthearted sense of humor as a saving grace. The performers playing the surprisingly optimistic ruffians in the “I've Got a Dream” tavern sequence are having more fun than should probably be allowed as they throw elbows, cross swords and dance on tabletops, and the comically tenacious palace horse Maximus got huge laughs from the youngsters every time he took the ice.
The show ends with great fanfare and even a few fireworks as the other Disney princesses and their charming princes warmly welcome Rapunzel into their royal family. So, “Dare to Dream” features plenty of animated star power, and every girl in attendance gets the chance to cheer for the princess that best suits her fancy.
“Disney on Ice presents Dare to Dream”
When: 7:30 p.m. Sept 13-14; 11:30 a.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 15; 1:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Sept. 16; 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17; and 7:30 p.m. Sept. 18.
Where: Jim Norick State Fair Arena.
Tickets: $14, $18, $23, $30 and $40.
Information: 948-6700 or www.okstatefair.com.