With I, Tonya, getting Oscar buzz and scheduled to go into wider release this month, figure skating is all the rage. Let’s examine Hollywood’s take on the sport.
The Ice Follies of 1939 (1939) This American musical drama stars Joan Crawford as actress Mary whose marriage to renowned ice skater Larry Hall (the one and only Jimmy Stewart!) brings on a host of issues both personal and professional. Also starring Lew Ayres (who played Dr. Kildare in nine movies), and three of the legendary International Ice Follies as themselves in their film debut.
Sun Valley Serenade (1941) In this black and white musical band pianist Ted Scott’s (John Payne of Miracle on 34th Street fame), manager has a bright idea; drum up publicity for the band by having adopt a foreign refugee. Instead of the child orphan Ted and the others were expecting their ‘refugee’ is a very attractive young woman named Karen Benson (real life three time gold medalist figure skater Sonja Henie of Norway), much to the chagrin of Ted’s fiancée. When the band gets a Christmas gig in Sun Valley, Karen tags along and hijinks ensue. Beside Henie’s elaborate routines on ice, the movie’s also noteworthy for premiering “Chattanooga Choo Choo” which won the Oscar for Best Original Song and was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
The Cutting Edge (1992) Paul Michael Glaser (The Running Man) directed this romantic comedy written by Tony Gilroy. Wealthy spoiled Kate Mosely (Moira Kelly of One Tree Hill) is a world class figure skater but her diva antics keep scaring off potential partners. Her coach Anton (Roy Dotrice of Amadeus) in a last ditch effort recruits washed-up hockey player Doug Dorsey (D.B. Sweeney of Eight Men Out) who hates figure skating. The two form a prickly partnership that eventually takes them to a stand-off against a Soviet team at the 1992 Olympics.
Reflections on Ice (1999) This HBO produced documentary features extensive footage and discussion of the early days of the sport. It covers everything from gender roles in ice skating, indoor vs. outdoor skating, politics of judging, costuming, the notorious Trixie Schuba and Janet Lynn rivalry and more. Worth special mention is the tragic plane crash of 1961 where the entire U.S. skating team was killed prompting a cancellation of the World Championships that year. Includes interviews with such legendary skaters as Peggy Fleming, Barbara Ann Scott, Dorothy Hamill, and Carole Heiss Jenkins.
The Fabulous Ice Age (2013) Keri Pickett directed this documentary about the golden age of touring ice shows which entertained generations of Americans, beginning in 1915 when a young, German, Charlotte from Berlin, brought her ‘ballet on ice’ to America’s Hippodrome theater. From frozen ponds to sold out arenas ice skating was BIG. Through archival footage and interviews with ice show producers, skating stars, and fans alike Pickett brings this uniquely American art form to life and also tells the story of one skater’s quest to preserve and share the history.
Top photo: Bigstock
“It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” sang Essential Voices USA with the kind of strapping vocal that conjured a Hollywood production number starring Norwegian figure skater/ film star, Sonja Henie.
In its 34th season, The New York Pops celebrated upcoming holidaze with an evening of rousing, homey cheer. Inspired by the iconic film White Christmas, the Pops’ Director/Conductor Steven Reineke invited two sets of siblings to perform perennial material culminating in the iconic Irving Berlin songs once sung in the film by Rosemary Clooney, Vera-Ellen, Danny Kaye and Bing Crosby.
Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway wearing a closet full of stylish, festive gowns shared the stage with Will and Anthony Nunziata for whose distracting sequined jackets and bespoke shoes one needed sunglasses.
‘This time of year, everyone of every age and every walk of life knows the same songs,” noted Hampton Callaway swinging seamlessly into an Ella Fitzgerald arrangement of “Winter Wonderland.” As always, the vocalist added her own nuanced stamp -an octave rose and slid, a ritard affected… It’s happy and a bit sassy. Later, she rendered William Schermerhorn/Westley Whatley’s story/song “Yes, Virginia”, about Virginia O’Hanlon who, in 1897, wrote to The New York Sun and was told in no uncertain terms, Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. Performance glows with warmth and was not, for a minute, over the top. First violinist Cenovia Cummins added immeasurably.
Liz Callaway offered two songs from Lynn Ahrens/Steve Flaherty’s Anastasia for which she voiced Anya in the animated version. (The musical comes to Broadway this spring). Stepping into character like a fur coat, the actress rises, expressive and expansive, to lush melodies and yearning lyrics. Particularly appropriate this year, “Grown Up Christmas List” (David Foster/Linda Thompson Foster) emerges with sincere depth of spirit: No more lives torn apart/That wars would never start/And time would heal all hearts/And everyone would have a friend…
Nodding to the music teacher in tonight’s audience who gave him his first solo age 7, Will Nunziata sang “The Christmas Song” with sincerity and gently warbling vibrato. Twin, Anthony Nunziata rendered his grandmother’s favorite, “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” in honor of his grandfather and those who continue to serve abroad. In Act II, The brothers gave us John Bucchino/Michael Feinstein’s charming, as-if-written-for-them “Carnegie Hall” -both were making their Hall debut and the heartfelt, co-authored “The Gift Is You” which might refer as easily to their mother as Jesus Christ.
To my mind, there were two highlights: Ann Hampton Callaway and Liz Callaway’s gorgeous, original, harmonized duet of “Silent Night”/”Mary, Did You Know?” which rose to the rafters with palpable devotion and, new to me, “The Chanukah Song” (Stephen Schwartz/Steven Young), as rendered by Essential Voices USA, which movingly embraced principles as well as season with brotherhood and gratitude.
A White Christmas Medley covered everything from “Happy Holiday” to “The Best Things Happen When You’re Dancing” as all four guests enthusiastically contributed. “Sisters,” was, of course, particularly apt. The ladies had an infectiously good time.
“We Need a Little Christmas” (from Mame) emerged a Jerry Herman wet dream- long, glorified and multi-layered as performed by The New York Pops and Essential Voices USA. Scrooge would’ve imploded on the spot.
Celebratory to the Nth degree, running smooth as an ice pirouette, the evening was peppered by welcome anecdotes and personal memories. Only Sound Design somewhat marred . Orchestra and chorus too often swallowed vocalists.
Photos by Maryann Lopinto
The New York Pops: Make the Season Bright
Steven Reineke-Music Director/Conductor
Essential Voices USA-Judith Clurman Music Director/Conductor
Guest Artists: Ann Hampton Callaway, Liz Callaway, Will Nunziata, Anthony Nunziata
December 16, 2016
New York Pops Calendar