So many things are good on ice _ lemonade, oysters, the Sharks _ but High School Musical on Ice? Really?
Ice Capades and Holiday on Ice, sure. But a made-for-TV movie about chipper high schoolers coming to terms with friendship, self-empowerment and sassy dance moves? Hmmm. Sounds like Disney is going to milk the High School Musical franchise — which already includes a phenomenally successful sequel to the original movie, a professional touring stage show and countless community theater productions — for all it’s worth.
High School Musical: The Ice Tour (it’s apparently passe to be On Ice) arrives in the Bay Area next Thursday and continues through Oct. 20 at the Oracle Arena in Oakland, then moves to the HP Pavilion in San Jose Oct. 24 through 28.
To ensure that Troy and Gabriella, Ryan and Sharpay, Chad and all the others retain their youthful exuberance, Disney and ice producer Kenneth Feld approached the original creative team to help make the transition to ice.
Kenny Ortega, who directed and co-choreographed the two HSM movies, recommended they use one of his fellow Emmy-winning co-choreographers: 27-year-old Charles Klapow, who prefers to be called Chucky.
Chucky Klapow was thrilled to get Ortega’s call, but there was only one problem in his mind: He didn’t know how to ice skate.
The ice folks said that wouldn’t be a problem because he could still teach the dance routines and “protect the integrity of the original moves.”
But for Chucky Klapow, not skating was not an option.
“The way I coach is by example,” he says on the phone from Manhattan just before HSM: The Ice Tour opened at Madison Square Garden. “The dancers feed off my energy. I show the move, demonstrate it so they can see how it looks and feels.”
So with the help of his fellow ice choreographers, Klapow learned to skate.
“I was doing an axle in 20 days,” he boasts. “The first one was a really bad, cheated axle, but I’ve been working on it. It’s still not great.”
So for someone who began his dancing career at 12 and has danced for Patti LaBelle, Celine Dion, Salt-N-Pepa and in Austin Powers, how does it feel to move on ice?
“Skating is a rush,” the Los Angeles native says. “It’s addictive. You master one jump and want the next one. It’s a cool feeling.”
Choreography for a movie — with everything directed to the camera — is one thing. Choreographing for an audience on three sides, not to mention the whole ice and skates factor, is quite another.
“What you can do on a floor in shoes you can’t necessarily do on a blade on ice,” Klapow says. “And the ice is so vast with the audience everywhere. You have to turn the choreography out and share the energy. The challenge was to keep each number recognizable and as true to the film as possible, but then cover a huge stage of ice. Each number was like solving a puzzle.”
For this icy HSM, the first movie and all its songs are confined to the first act. Act 2 features all the songs and plot from HSM 2. That’s a lot of show to learn, and Klapow and his cohorts were teaching all of this to three separate casts: two North America tours and one international tour.
“The whole process took about 2 1/2 months,” Klapow says. “We worked with skaters really quickly, but I’m super proud of it. Every time we set a number, it turned out to be better than we thought it would be.”
And here’s an added bonus: Klapow met someone special as a result of this near-arctic adventure.
“I met a girl during the rehearsal process,” Klapow says, and even though he’s on the other end of the phone lines, you can just tell he’s smiling. “Not only did I learn to skate and choreograph for the ice, I met somebody.”
Thinking back to those early days when HSM was just another in-development Disney Channel TV musical, Klapow says he had no idea he was about to become involved in a phenomenon.
“When I heard it was going to be called High School Musical, I thought, `Ugh. No one’s going to watch that!’ ” Klapow recalls. “But making the movie was an amazing experience. We had a ball doing it and knew it was something special. I don’t think any of us expected the level of success we got. I was just so happy I got to work on production numbers with 100 people in them. When was I going to get an experience like that again? It was like an old movie musical. The the second film was even bigger. I’m so lucky — I got to do it twice.”
The kety to the show’s success, Klapow says, is that it strikes a balance between the boys and the girls, sports and drama, sinigng and dancing, skaters and brainiacs and all the rest.
“It’s such a positive message,” Klapow says. “We’re all in this together. It’s all about teamwork, all for one, acceptance of everybody, friendship. That’s why people fall in love with it — it’s all about innocence and fun. It’s totally the `Saved by the Bell’ formula.”
Klapow will likely be involved in High School Musical 3, which is reportedly being readied for the big screen and will begin shooting in January. “I’m talking to Kenny about it,” he says.
“High School Musical: The Ice Tour” runs Thursday through Oct. 20 at the Oracle Arena, I-880 at 66th Avenue, Oakland. Tickets are $18 to $60. Call 510-625-8497, 415-421-8497 or 408-998-8497 or visit www.ticketmaster.com for information. The show moves to HP Pavilion, 525 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose, Oct. 24-28.
And check out Klapow’s Web site at www.chuckyk.com.