The Ice Capades was a traveling ice show that ran from 1940 to 1995 that featured ex-Olympian skaters, elaborate set-pieces/themes, and costumes that could have been featured in a 1930s Hollywood musical. The Capades had its roots in vaudeville theater, and many early acts included comedians, jugglers, barrel jumpers, magicians, and other such entertainers. There were several 1940s motion pictures inspired by the show including Ice Capades and Ice Capades Revue, and although they were critically panned, served as glitzy escapism for a public ensnared in war. Former Olympian Dorothy Hamill bought the show in 1993 for 10 million dollars, and then sold it to (of all people) Pat Robertson in 1995. Not surprisingly, Robertson managed to run it into the ground in record time, and the show was bankrupt later that year. There have been attempts to revive the show, but they have failed to get traction.
The Ice Capades came to the Assembly Hall in Champaign, Illinois when I was 6 years old, and I was in attendance with my best friend Kari and my mother. I saved my souvenir program, and looking at it now transports me back to that winter night so long ago. I was not exactly an ice skating fanatic, but I was very impressed with the glitz and glamour of the costumes like these:
This is the program’s front cover. These skaters were from the “Viva Vegas Viva” number. They should have just called it “I am a Vegas Showgirl!” They were rocking some serious plumage.
“Hello World Hello” was their Broadway/New York themed number.
“A Slice of Apple Pie”….some generic patriotic number. Even as a kid I thought these costumes were atrocious.
“That’s Jazz” featured eye-searing hot pink costumes and Stargate-sized tambourine gates. In retrospect, this seems very goofy…however, when you’re a 6 year old from a town with no stop lights or a grocery store, it suddenly becomes very impressive.
“Flight to Kismet” was their 1001 Arabian Nights themed act. I do not remember why there was a scantily-clad woman in a giant snow globe, but I do remember her swimming around inside of the globe. I was very impressed with her ability to hold her breath.
Aside from the spectacular larger themed numbers, there were about a dozen single/pair skaters who executed more of a traditional Olympic-style routine. Jean-Pierre Romano was my favorite of this bunch, cuz he dressed like a 50s greaser, and hammed it up for the crowd. I think this was the first time I ever saw a wallet chain, too.
But all of these numbers paled in comparison to the main attraction (in my mind anyway) — THE SMURFS. I don’t really remember what happened during “Smurfs Alive!” but Gargamel was there and he freaked me out.
I do remember it being a little hard to distinguish which Smurf was which from a distance.
After the Ice Capades show, I had Kari over to my house for a sleepover. It was during this time that she swore to me that she had a friend who lived in her closet named Mister Donut. Mister Donut was, of course, a walking, talking anthropomorphic donut, complete with chocolate frosting and googly eyes. She was so convincing, and I was the type of kid who wanted to believe that I could have a mysterious donut friend as well, so I believed her. Boy, was I disappointed when I finally visited her house and she admitted she had lied. But I loved her nonetheless. And I’m very glad she humored me and went with me to the Ice Capades.