- We went behind the scenes of “Disney on Ice” to find out what it takes to perform in the show.
- Senior video correspondent Graham Flanagan spent a day with the cast and crew ahead of the debut of “Road Trip Adventures,” which is currently on tour in North America.
- Many of the cast grew up in the world of competitive ice skating, a world that the show’s director of talent said the company scouts for potential cast members.
- “Road Trip Adventures” goes beyond skating, requiring the cast to learn challenging choreography that incorporates aerial work and gymnastics.
- The show incorporates characters from recent Disney properties like “Toy Story 4,” “Aladdin,” and “Mary Poppins Returns.”
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: This is “Disney on Ice.” But as you can see, there’s much more to the show than skating.
Bryan Santiago: One, two, three and four. Three, turn, five, six, crossover, seven, eight.
Narrator: We got to meet some of the show’s principal performers. Like Nelson Sanchez Leemet, who plays the role of Woody. Maria Starr, who plays Elastigirl. And Nathan Miller and Sophia Adams, who star as Aladdin and Princess Jasmine. We went behind the scenes.
Nelson Sanchez Leemet: I feel like I’m a gymnast, not gonna lie.
Narrator: To find out how these athletic performers push themselves to limits they didn’t even know were possible.
Maria Starr: Honestly, six weeks ago, I don’t think that I could do these, and now I could do them and talk to you.
Narrator: This is what it takes to perform in “Disney on Ice.” We caught up with the cast and crew of “Disney on Ice Presents: Road Trip Adventures,” the brand’s newest show, just days before the company set out on a two-year, 67-city tour of North America.
Cindy Stewart: Take a break. [clapping]
Narrator: The show is created here, at Feld Entertainment Studios in Ellenton, Florida, about 40 miles south of Tampa. Inside the 580,000-square-foot facility, the cast and crew have spent roughly a year putting the show together, rehearsing and training six days a week, for eight hours a day, in a full-size rink complete with lights, props, and high-end LED screens.
Stewart: We’re in our final rehearsals before our first preview show. And we’re just tying up loose ends and making last-minute changes.
Narrator: On the day of our visit, friends and family of Feld Entertainment employees filled the arena to witness a special preview performance of “Road Trip Adventures.” Along with familiar faces like Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy, the new show features segments from recent Disney movies, like “Aladdin,” “Toy Story 4,” and “Mary Poppins Returns.”
Nicole Feld: We partner with the Disney Company to understand what’s in their content pipeline. What’s new and different, what’s coming out. And from there we pick out the moments that we feel like are gonna resonate the most with audiences.
Graham Flanagan: You use these skates for a long time, or?
Starr: I never have them more than 11 months. It’s, like, always 10 or 11 months.
Santiago: All right, so, “Trip a Little Light Fantastic.” The number overall is looking really great, but there’s three sections I really wanna clean up today. Five, six, seven, eight. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. One and two.
Narrator: The “Road Trip Adventures” cast features 53 performers.
Santiago: Much better.
Narrator: Feld Entertainment wouldn’t share details about their salaries but did say that they are provided with healthcare.
Judy Thomas: Most of the skaters here have grown up skating, from young children through competitions. And we really do recruit and go out and really search the talent through competitions as they’re coming up through the different levels.
Santiago: One, two, three, and four. Good. So, Nelson, just make sure that you’re heel together, lean back, lean forward.
Leemet: I was born in the Dominican Republic, so, no winter, no snow, no big rinks. Never even thought about figure skating until I was 10 when I moved to Canada. I didn’t really like the competitive side of skating, I was more performing and letting the audience enjoy the performance. So when it got too competitive, I kinda took a step back and I looked at “Disney on Ice.” So I was like, I have to do that, it’s my turn now. And here I am today.
Starr: I skated competitively and did that until I graduated high school. And then I just applied for “Disney on Ice,” sent in a skating résumé and, like, video of my skating. And I got offered a job. And I was here a month later. And I’ve been on the road, this’ll be my 10th year.
Nathan Miller: I’ve actually been skating for about 25 years now. When I was a kid, I lived in Oklahoma City, and “Disney on Ice” always came through at the state fair. And that was, like, a big highlight for me as a child. And I always as a kid wanted to skate alongside Goofy, and, I mean, here I am, now eight years, and I still get to do it.
Flanagan: Was meeting Goofy everything you’d hoped it would be?
Miller: Oh, it was everything I hoped it would be. It was so much fun.
Sophia Adams: I was just a competitive skater for the US. I’ve been training for my whole life. I’ve been to Nationals, I’ve done the whole thing. But I really wanted to travel, I really wanted to earn a living off of what I do as a career. I’ve been with the company for about five years. I’ve traveled around the world, almost on every tour possible. But what is also extremely great about this particular show is I actually get to fly.
Narrator: While the show is called “Disney on Ice,” some performers spend a bulk of their time in the air. In addition to skating, the show features complex aerial choreography.
Miller: Do the arabesque death spiral release, and then we’ll stop here.
Narrator: This requires collaboration between the performers and crew members in charge of operating the cables connected to their harnesses.
Danica O’Neill: A lot of the people that we have have never really flown before or done any aerial work because they are naturally skaters. So where they’ve started and where they are now has grown so much. So we are able to do more the more that they are comfortable with and can do.
Turner: So, we actually have to have a close relationship with our operator when we’re learning this process because, you know, there’s only so much I can do. Like, I can’t even come up to you yet, because I’ve, you know, I’m kind of on a leash. And so you have to get together with our operator to give you more slack, less slack, and tension. And help me spin and fly. So instead of just working with a partner, you’re also working with another partner.
Narrator: Along with aerial work, the show’s cast must develop other skills that go beyond skating.
Leemet: This is called a rollup. And it uses a lot of abs and upper-body strength. It really works your back and all these muscles that we never really use as figure skaters. But we have to use it now.
Narrator: Nelson’s upper-body strength is put to the test during the “Mary Poppins” segment of the show.
Leemet: Being able to hold on for grip for so long up there, all my weight’s in my hands for the first time ever. You know, we’re used to being on skates on our own body; it’s all upper-body now.
Narrator: The “Mary Poppins” segment also combines feats of upper-body strength with aerial work, which occurs when the lampposts suddenly take flight.
Leemet: We always have communication; it’s the most important part. If something goes wrong, we have a few little waves, thumbs down means down, you know, feet like this also means down, like an emergency exit, in case something goes wrong. At first we started low, but the higher we started going, it’s definitely a little scary.
Narrator: Not every role in “Disney on Ice” requires quite the same level of athletic ability. But each part contributes to the overall experience.
Santiago: Especially figure skaters, it’s a very solitary sport. We don’t grow up always working with, like, a large group together. Getting them to see the bigger picture, know that it’s not yourself out on the ice by yourself, you’re a part of a huge unit that’s performing in front of thousands of people. So, it’s kinda getting the mindset of your everyday figure skater into the mindset of a professional athlete. They’ve grown a really close bond, and they’ve become really good friends, and they support each other. It’s a really good group of people that we have here.
Leemet: When I go out there and I see the audience react so well to us, and all these families come together and share such a beautiful moment, it gives me so much joy. Makes me miss my family, but they’re proud of me. I know they’re proud of me.