If ever there was a Disney franchise perfectly suited to Disney on Ice, it’s the blockbuster “Frozen” series — the subject of the animated 2013 and 2019 feature films (grossing a combined $2.7 billion), two short films, a two-year Broadway musical, and its own ice show.
Skater Ryan Santee steps into the blades of the beloved story’s outdoorsman, Kristoff, in the “Frozen” section of the new Disney On Ice presents Mickey’s Search Party, at the TaxSlayer Center, 1201 River Drive, Moline, for seven shows Nov. 18-21. Performances are 7 p.m. Nov. 18, 19 and 20, plus 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. on Nov. 20 and 21.
“It was kind of the perfect storm,” Santee, 27, said recently of including “Frozen” on ice. The current tour started in August and will run through early May 2022.
“It’s definitely a good thing to have a long one after having some time off,” Santee said. After touring shut down in March 2020 due to COVID, he was one of the lucky ones, to come back with Disney on Ice in October 2020.
“I actually got to be one of the guinea pigs for touring,” Santee said, noting they started at venues with 25-percent audience capacity limits.
“I was mainly nervous because of the unknowns of what COVID actually was, at a time when we didn’t have as much information as we do now,” he said, crediting the production company Feld Entertainment. “But the fact is that Feld put into place the safety protocols, that made me feel a lot more safe. We were getting tested multiple times a week and had to wear masks all the time.
“We were on, I guess you could call, like a modified lockdown, where we were limited on where we could go and who we could see — just to make sure that we weren’t getting it from the outside,” he said. “It was basically like a bubble.”
It’s been great to be back with full-capacity audiences on tour.
“It’s been bigger than a lot of us have ever had expected, which is nice,” Santee said. “We certainly give the same for performance regardless of, if there’s one person or 10,000 in the audience. But it definitely helps when you’ve got a nice big crowd out there, cheering me on.”
“We were so excited to be back,” he said. “We would have performed for two people and I think it was just, I know personally, I was excited to be able to bring live entertainment back to people, to give them that escape from the everyday life.”
Santee has Disney skating in his blood.
Both his parents skated with Disney on Ice, and he was born on the road, in Montreal, in 1994, while they were touring. At the time, his mom was performance director for the tour. His parents met doing Disney on Ice, and each toured for about 10 years, but he never got to see them skate as a child. Santee started skating at age 2.
Though active in soccer and baseball through school, he said he always enjoyed skating the best.
“It didn’t hurt that I was the best at skating, of all the events or things that I participated in, because I’ve been doing it so long,” Santee said. “I had been to Nationals and also, I think it was just the one I enjoyed the most. It was nice that it was never pushed on me by my parents. Obviously, they easily could have been, like, oh, you have to do this, but it’s just always kind of felt like home on the ice.”
His parents didn’t give him specific advice about preparing for Disney on Ice.
“I got to hear all the stories about the friendships they made along the way and all the cool places they got to see,” he said. “So I don’t know that they gave me any explicit advice other than just be myself and be a good person, all that.”
Growing up in Chicago, his parents took him to the Disney shows, and then in the Twin Cities, after they moved to Rochester, Minn., where he graduated high school.
“It seems like almost every tour that came through, we knew one or two people or had the performance director for the show that happened to be visiting,” Santee said. “It’s crazy to me and I realized it since joining, that it’s all kind of one big family. People look out for each other. It’s a really cool experience.”
After he joined Disney, he fondly recalled his first day on the ice.
“When I was just starting to learn the show, just stepping onto the ice and looking back at the set and like, realizing that I was part of this massive production,” Santee said. “Up to that point I had really just been competing, so I was kind of by myself. The change was being part of a cast like this, was probably the most thrilling part of it. It was very heartwarming and hard to kind of put into words, how it made me feel.”
He’s been with Disney on Ice since January 2016, and has been a full-time company member on three productions. Santee said his favorite role is hard to pick, but the current one of Kristoff is probably a tie with his first role, Peter Pan.
The “Frozen” segment of the show is about 10 minutes long, and he’s in other ensemble roles of the show. Santee loves doing flips and other tricks off ramps in the segment.
The current tour is comprised of about 40 skaters and 20 crew members, he said.
Disney on Ice also has brought him all over the world – including tours in China, Taiwan, Thailand, Mexico and South Africa. Audiences everywhere adore them, especially places that don’t have Disney theme parks, he said.
“It’s really cool to be able to bring the Disney characters to them. So they don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to see their favorite characters,” Santee said.
The idyllic, magical Disney show is even more meaningful during the holiday season, he said.
“Thanksgiving time and then into Christmas and New Year, it’s my favorite time of the year,” he said. “So being able to perform and do all that at the same time and travel and being all these different places is even more special for us.”
While delivering the same magical experiences guests expect from Disney On Ice, Feld Entertainment is continuing Guest Wellness Enhancements to help keep families safe at its live events. Feld is working closely with venue partners to establish and follow COVID-19 health and safety standards in accordance with all federal, state and local guidelines.
Please monitor the venue website for health and safety policies, including face covering and entry requirements, which are subject to change. Full details on Feld Entertainment Guest Wellness Enhancements can be found here.