Sunday, November 20, 2011

Day 136: Aliens... On Ice?

What can I possibly say about Aliens on Ice that would do it justice? Probably nothing, but I'll do my best anyway.

A little while ago I posted a blog about watching Alien and Aliens for the first time. The reason I was watching it, besides wanting to see two awesome movies I somehow missed growing up, was because my friend, Shaun, was about to take part in what was sure to be the most ridiculous stage show any of us had ever seen: Aliens on Ice.

A local theater group called Old Murder House Theater has become known for their over-the-top hilarious stage adaptations of popular movies. Combining a large amount of talent, ingenuity, nostalgia, amazing impersonations and cardboard sets they have performed stage versions of such films as Die Hard, Back to the Future, and Robocop. The day that they posted on their Facebook page that their next production would be James Cameron's Aliens performed on ice I immediately received a text from Shaun about how amazing it was going to be. Then, realizing that this was too good an opportunity to pass up, he e-mailed the director, Sam Eidson, and offered his services for the show. Not only did he watch Aliens repeatedly as a kid and can still quote the dialogue, he's also been playing ice hockey for over ten years and is completely comfortable on skates. The only thing that I can think of that might have been a better fit for Shaun is if they had done Top Gun on ice.

Eventually after a few exchanges they brought Shaun in to play one of the Xenomorphs (the aliens) along with another hockey player, a figure skater and Sam's brother. The idea was that the marines would be bumbling and unsteady on the ice and the aliens would be experienced skaters with a definite advantage, much like the movie. We were privy to a little insight into the rehearsal process through Shaun and after his first meeting with the group on the ice he was less than confident in the cast's skating ability. This was only two weeks out from the show. Luckily part of the charm of Old Murder House Theater's shows is their somewhat frantic and unsteady nature. Mistakes only seem to make them better. Shaun said that Sam put it best when explaining that, "Perfection is not expected."

Over the next week Shaun's worries took a back seat to his excitement, but he discussed it with us very little. We asked him to keep the details to a minimum so we would be surprised come show time. He said it was really coming together, but they hadn't quite had a full rehearsal yet. When we talked to him before the first performance he said it would be the first time they would have run the entire show in costume on ice.

We couldn't wait.

I would love to recount the entire show beat for beat, but I won't. I'll just highlight some of my favorite moments.

The set was made of two double-sided walls framing an air-lock door. The walls started off reflecting the ship/colony interior and then rotated to resemble the inside of the alien lair. It was set up right at center ice facing the stands with a few spotlights and speakers on stands. All of the actors had their own wireless headset mics which was a welcome and necessary improvement over previous shows where they were forced to pass around a couple of hand held mics. The main cast (all male by the way) played no fewer than two parts each which led to several hilarious moments where an actor would have to have a conversation with himself. It was awkward and hilarious. The sets and costumes were amazing and ingenious. Most of it looked to be cardboard, but there were a few pieces that really stood out to me like Vasquez's "steady-cam" mounted gun and the loader from the final fight with the queen alien. They were impressive to the point of distraction because I was trying to figure out how they were made instead of watching the show.

The actors were better on the ice than I thought they would be, though some definitely looked more comfortable than others. The guy playing Ripley (Kirk Johnson) was probably the best skater of the bunch, but once the aliens showed up even he looked like he barely knew what he was doing. The alien attacks were fast and a lot of fun leaving behind lots of acid alien blood (silly string). One of the highlights was a part that no one expected, mostly because it's probably the most ridiculous thing you could incorporate into a retelling of the movie Aliens: a Disney song and dance number.

There's a scene in the movie where the marines and Ripley are trapped in a room watching their hand held radar unit as the aliens get closer and closer. Eventually they know the aliens are in the room, but they can't see them. That's when the aliens attack from their positions in the crawl spaces of the room. In the Old Murder House Theater Version the aliens spring from their hiding places and instead do a rousing rendition of "Be Our Guest" from Beauty and the Beast complete with choreographed ice dancing. It was so far out of left field that I think everyone was confused for a moment before the laughs and cheers started. The marines stand frozen as the aliens (led by Sam in an alien mask) skate and sing around them until eventually they join in as well (led by Kirk doing a spot on Angela Lansbury impersonation). When the song ended it was business as usual with more alien attacks and gun fire, but everyone was still laughing trying to wrap our heads around what we just saw.

The script was excellent to be sure, but some of my favorite moments weren't scripted. Just after the marines have "secured" the station and they pick up movement on their radar Sam leaves the stage for a quick change into his Newt costume while they continue to skate in circles looking for what they think is an alien. Both nights there was some difficulty in getting Sam into his costume which left the rest of the cast skating in circles for several minutes improvising things like, "This place is fucking huge!" and, "Hmm... that alien must be busy with something."

I told Shaun later that I think part of what makes these shows so fun is the hint of danger. That was definitely present in this show featuring a bunch of actors bumbling around essentially wearing razors on their feet and moving among set pieces and extension cords while stage hands threw fire crackers at them. The audience felt the danger on the first night when, in order to set the proper mood for the escape from the base, they lit a firework fountain that launched roman candles into the air to ricochet off the ceiling. We all held our breath waiting for one of the flaming shots to catch a bad bounce and end up in the audience or in Newt's blonde wig (one came pretty damn close). The second night's show was only allowed to go on when they promised no fireworks would hit the ceiling.

To put it simply the show exceeded even our wildest imaginations of what it might contain and after the first night we couldn't wait for the second showing. My wife had the brilliant idea to go out and buy some cheap fake flowers and small stuffed animals. She wanted to throw them on the ice at the end of the last performance like they do for figure skaters. We bought a few small bunches, a Santa plush and a snowman plush. When the cast came out for their final curtain call we attempted to rain the flowers down on them, but they didn't go as far as we had hoped. Luckily Sam saw them and he picked one up thanking the audience for coming out. It was a rare treat and I only wish it had run longer, but that's part of what makes these shows so special. We will most definitely never see anything like it again.


Here is a collection of links and videos about the show to help you more fully realize the awesome vision.

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