Ice skating isn't an everyday summer entertainment. It took 18 hours, six barrels of ethylene glycol and 500 cubic feet of water to transform Wolf Trap's stage into an outdoor ice rink for "Festival on Ice," which opened last night in cooperatively cool weather. The show itself is a TV-style variety special (complete with live commercials) perfectly suited to summer's tastes and temperature.
Like any good variety show, "Festival on Ice" has something for everyone. There are numbers devoted to the Olympics, Broadway, nostalgia, patriotism and pop music, with some folk dancing and "art skating" thrown in for good measure. Somehow, this eclecticism seems uncalculated. Like its star, Dorothy Hamill, the show is fresh and unpretentious.
The only major miscalculation is the lengthy contribution of pianist/comedian Dale Gonyea. He's as obtrusive as if he had wandered on from another channel, singing songs that begin with "Nobody Knows My Mom" and that hit a high point with "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall," and telling jokes as stale as they are tasteless. Gonyea is interjected after the strong Broadway segment, with skaters running down stairs, tap-skating and performing all manner of flashy feats, and he stops the show's momentum cold.
A more successful novelty is the three sneaker-shod Ice Breakers (otherwise unidentified), who perform breakdancing versions of the illusion spin, headstand turns and other complicated moves.
As for skating, the show is strongest when it sends on its stars (Tai Babilonia and Randy Gardner, in addition to Hamill). There's an amiable, rather raggedy chorus of eight women and four men, but neither they nor the three soloists have the technique or charm of the headliners.
Hamill, unabashedly wholesome and athletic, has the most to do. There are a few numbers that require her to be elegant and demure, and she does this well, but she'll counter with powerful turns and jumps that spring from the gut. She's hampered by the smallness of the stage compared with an ice rink; she can't build up speed.
"Festival on Ice" doesn't break any new ground, as skating or as choreography, but it doesn't try to. The numbers, choreographed by skater Sarah Kawahara, are Broadway dancing translated into skating -- pleasing formations punctuated by a few tricks. They aim at entertainment and that is what, for the most part, "Festival of Ice" succeeds in providing.