Disney on Ice show keeps this Aussie skater sharp

Where can you transform yourself from an ugly and unkind brute to an action character with super-human powers to a handsome and kindly prince in about 135 minutes?

If you're Australian Brian Duckworth, the answer is in the Disney on Ice show "Walt Disney's 100 Years of Magic," which comes to Bridgeport's Arena at Harbor Yard for nine performances Wednesday through Jan. 7. Duckworth — Australia's Junior National Champion in 1987 and Senior National Champion in 1992 — portrays the villain Gaston from "Beauty and the Beast," the superhero Mr. Incredible and the prince from "Sleeping Beauty" in the production that is touring the nation through April.

The revue-style "spectacular" was launched in 2001 to mark the 100th anniversary of Walt Disney's birth on Dec. 5, 1901. As the show's program booklet notes:

"Once upon a time in Hollywood, a young man sat down at his desk and pencilled a little drawing that changed the course of show-business history.

"The man was Walt Disney. The drawing was of a mouse who'd come to be known as Mickey. The world watched and laughed and wept and cheered, and today we celebrate the Magical World of Disney on Ice."

Some of Disney's most beloved characters are featured. In addition to Mickey, there are visits by Goofy, Donald Duck, Jiminy Cricket, Buzz Lightyear and Pinocchio.

Since the production debuted five years ago, it has been modified and now includes numbers from such popular family tales as "Finding Nemo," "Beauty and the Beast," "Toy Story," "Pinocchio," "Mulan," "Aladdin," "The Incredibles" and "The Lion King."

"There's no opportunity to be bored," said the 30-something Duckworth, laughing, during a recent telephone chat from a tour stop in St. Paul, Minn.

"There are lots and lots of costume changes, lots of color and lights," he added.

"Kids these days have such a short attention span, but a show like this is so fast-paced. It really keeps moving, so it's great for the little ones. And for the adults, there's lots of Olympic-standard skating. There's a lot of entertainment for everyone." The skater, who was reared in a small town outside Melbourne, joined Disney on Ice in 1995. "I was working as the duty manager on the night shift" at a store when Disney On Ice producer, Feld Entertainment, called to make him an offer, he recalled.

"By the end of that shift, I had made up my mind, and I have never looked back."

Disney on Ice has taken the skater around the world, on tours through the United States, South and Central America, Europe, Japan, Asia, Australia, Turkey and Dubai.

"All the traveling can be draining, but I love it. I'm a big foodie, so part of the allure is traveling and tasting all the foods of a country."

Performing in an ice show also gives Duckworth the opportunity to continually refine his skating. In addition to skating in nine to 12 shows a week, he practices three to four days a week.

"As professionals, we're happy where we're at, but we're always trying to be better. There's always another challenge: to be cleaner, better, faster as a skater," he said.

When all is said and done, Duckworth said, he's with Disney on Ice "because I enjoy performing. There is instant gratification on the ice" that comes from seeing and hearing audience reaction.

"There's nothing like it; it's like a drug."

Disney on Ice's "Walt Disney's 100 Years of Magic" visits the Arena at Harbor Yard, 600 Main St. in downtown Bridgeport, as follows: Wednesday at 7 p.m., Thursday at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m., Friday at 7 p.m., Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 and 6:30 p.m., Sunday at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tickets are $15, $20 and $25; VIP seats are $45. They're available at the box office, by calling Ticketmaster at 368-1000 or online at www.ticketmaster.com.

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