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So Richard Dwyer has moved into the realm of the venerable, the only male ice show principal to even remotely approach the exalted stature of Sonja Henie. He has become a vice-president of Follies and manages the show he stars in. He is what most differentiates Follies from Capades. This year, for the first time, Dwyer introduces the show, his initial appearance on skates follows quickly thereafter, and his style and presence are felt even when he isn't on the ice.
In the trade, the conventional wisdom is that Capades is more like Vegas and Follies more like Disney, which is an apt appraisal. Another way to describe the difference is to say that Follies is more ice, Capades more show. Follies always falls back on the skating. Even in the kiddie number, it stuffs more of its top stars into the sweaty Sesame Street costumes—the Cookie Monster does axels and sit spins—while Capades merely assigns line skaters to play Yogi Bear and his pals. Capades offers a clever teen-age juggler on skates, Albert Lucas, but Follies never uses a specialty act—too impure. Capades has a clear edge in production numbers and, in a game where books are judged by their covers, the Capades costumes are richer and more original. But then, Follies has the better exits.
RICHARD L. COE, "THE WASHINGTON POST," 1975: Scorned by the intelligentsia as absurd hybrids, the ice revues are never seriously regarded by the killjoys of culture. Eyebrows are raised and noses go up as soon as interest is evinced in the cheerfully gaudy displays of this union of athletics and show biz. Sure, the concepts are not subtle, they're audacious. Yes, the humor is knockabout, but it's funny, basic, not sniveling nor self-pitying.... Where has all the glitter gone? Into the ice shows, that's where.
BOB TURK, CHOREOGRAPHER OF ICE CAPADES AND THE PARIS LIDO, 1975: Skating really hasn't gotten very far yet. It's still extremely shallow. The skaters don't form any character in their parts. Instead, a star skater comes to an ice show. At last he has gotten to be champion oj the world, and all he's asked to do is to please the audience by doing a few double turns in the air.
The embracing of ice dancing by the Olympics was a rare endorsement for ice shows from the more legitimate precincts. Generally, ice revues are considered d�class�—animated greeting cards—by show people, and sissy by sports people. But as a guileless orphan of culture that grosses more than $40 million a year at the gate (almost as much as all of Broadway), ice shows do not agonize about not being taken seriously. As they say at the box office, you can call me anything but late for dinner.
Only a bizarre half-breed could survive as an arena attraction. The arena was never meant to serve as a stage. The only other quasitheatrical endeavor that works in the arena is the three-ring circus, which is, in effect, three little theaters of more traditional, manageable size. Even a basketball court often gets telescoped in the cavernous new buildings, the intimacy of the action maintained only by the warm caress of a point spread. Disney On Parade, marked as a can't-miss, suffered a lingering arena death; Peter Pan , with Cathy Rigby, succumbed quickly (some would say mercifully). Rock shows get by in arenas largely because of the well-known illusory powers of marijuana rather than the acoustics and sight lines.
The ice show succeeds where so much else fails because with those blades the characters can negotiate the vast expanses quickly. It works because it is a freak; the skaters are neither artists nor athletes, they are merely expeditious.
"You have nothing completely," says Bob Turk. "You lose the intensity of the stage because you're open on three sides." His right arm sweeps about a huge building. "Who are you doing it for? For the people down there who can be intimate with the show, up close, or for the ones way up there? You must always be thinking of those far away. And you can see the patterns when you get far enough up—wonderful patterns that you don't realize exist when you're down close—but even then the spectacle lacks symmetry because 160 by 65 is too long and thin. You would never select those dimensions to work with. And the performers, they must be elegant and natural, an unlikely blend to start with, and they must be athletic as well. There's such a strangeness to skating." He shrugs.
So after 40 years it is altogether naive to expect innovations in the ice show. Basically, it will continue to use unschooled performers, trained as athletes, cast as costume fillers, who are applauded by unsophisticated audiences for all the wrong things. But everyone always leaves the show agreeably, the audience happy, the performers in a blaze. Exit.