Chillin’ with the Princess

For Walt Disney, the world was a carousel of color. Tetona Jackson is adding another character and a
Minnie and Mickey Mouse skate with Princess Tiana, center, from “The Princess and the Frog,†during the Royal Ball for Valentine’s Day with all the Princesses and their princes in “Disney on Ice
Minnie and Mickey Mouse skate with Princess Tiana, center, from “The Princess and the Frog,†during the Royal Ball for Valentine’s Day with all the Princesses and their princes in “Disney on Ice

For Walt Disney, the world was a carousel of color.

The founder of the animation, movie and theme park business filled his world with sputtering ducks, rugged frontiersmen, an avenging scarecrow and noble dogs named Old Yeller and Savage Sam.

Princesses also have been part of the cast. Aurora, Ariel and Jasmine in “Sleeping Beauty,” “The Little Mermaid” and “Aladdin,” respectively, have been among the characters and films that have thrilled generations of small girls and boys.

Another character

Tetona Jackson is adding another character and another thrill. The 20-year-old skater will play Disney’s newest heroine — Tiana from just-opened “The Princess and the Frog” — in “Disney on Ice Presents Let’s Celebrate!” The all-star revue on Wednesday begins a five-day, nine-show engagement at Albany’s Times Union Center.

Disney on Ice Presents ’Let’s Celebrate!’

WHERE: Times Union Center, 51 S. Pearl St., Albany.

WHEN: Wednesday at 7 p.m.; Thursday at 10:30 a.m. and 7 p.m.; Friday at 7 p.m.; Saturday at 11 a.m., 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 20, at 1 and 5 p.m.

HOW MUCH: Tickets are $13, $23, $41 and $56. Opening night, all $23 and $13 seats are priced at $10. Children ages 2 and over must have a ticket to enter the event.


“She’s very sassy,” Jackson said during a telephone interview after a recent show in Indianapolis. “She’s a strong-willed woman who works hard for what she wants, which is what I really love about her. She’s really strong and independent.

“She’s a little bit different from some of the other Disney princesses, but she is a princess,” Jackson added. “She’s so much fun to play.”

The “little bit different” includes new color for Disney romantic heroines. Tiana is the animation division’s first African-American princess, and Jackson admits she felt a little pressure playing such a high-profile character during show rehearsals. Crowd reactions have eliminated the anxiety; Jackson said audiences love the bold, brassy Tiana.

The new princess endures hardships in the new fairy tale, loosely based on E.D. Baker’s novel “The Frog Princess,” which was inspired by the Brothers Grimm classic “The Frog Prince.” The young lady meets Prince Naveen, belted by voodoo and changed into a hopping, talking amphibian. Naveen mistakes Tiana for a princess, and convinces her a kiss will break the spell. The smooch doesn’t work, and Tiana also becomes a frog — and becomes green with anger.

Jackson is happy to lend her smile and quick feet to the live-action beauty. She knows some children will consider Tiana a role model.

Model for kids

“Not just African-American kids, but kids in general,” she said. “I feel all the princesses and princes and a lot of the Disney characters are role models to a lot of young children. I love the fact that I can be a role model and I can be someone the young African-American kids or anyone can look up to. I feel it proves to them anything can happen, and if you work hard enough, you can be what you want to be.”

Jackson has always wanted to skate. A native of Los Angeles, she has been on ice since she was 5 years old. She was the artistic champion and overall bronze medalist in the 2006 National Showcase, a theatrical skating competition sponsored by the United States Figure Skating Association.

Jackson has trained in hip-hop, flamenco, jazz, ballet, African and tap dance. She’s been on the Disney ice roster — eight shows have toured this year — since 2007. She met audiences skating the role of Taylor McKessie in “Disney’s High School Musical: The Ice Tour.”

Less stressful

Performing as a princess or musician is less stressful than competitive skating.

“Even though there are a whole bunch of people and a whole bunch of audience members watching the show, I get lost in the show, I get lost in the character,” Jackson said. “And it’s a lot of fun being on ice with all of these people and interacting with all the other characters.”

Everyone’s here. More than 50 characters from 16 Disney stories have moments in “Let’s Celebrate,” billed as a montage of celebrations, holidays and festivals from around the world. Mickey and Minnie Mouse skate a winter wonderland; Lilo and Stitch show up at a Hawaiian luau, bone man Jack Skellington gets the Halloween skit full of Disney villains and a Valentine’s Day royal ball brings together all the Disney romantic couples.

“It’s pretty interactive,” said Jordan Brauninger, who plays cowboy “Woody” from the “Toy Story” movies in the ice escapade. “There’s a lot of audience participation and there’s a lot of being close to the audience.”

Cincinnati native Brauninger, 22, who skated in “High School Musical” as Troy Bolton, understands he and cast mates are playing Disney icons.

“It’s a lot to live up to,” he said. “The years and years and years that Disney has been around, it’s become sort of a staple in the family entertainment industry. It’s such a huge name and the expectations are so much to live up to.”

Like Jackson, Brauninger can compare his latest gig to a past in competitive skating.

“There are a lot of differences, but there are also a lot of similarities,” he said. “Technically, a lot of the moves you see in the show come from competitive skating. Everybody in the show was a high-level skater at one point or another. The challenge is the acting part. There are a lot of skaters who are great skaters who can’t act.”

Brauninger has learned how to play a friendly toy cowboy.

“Really, what it comes down to is embracing the character you’re playing,” he said. “When you believe it yourself more or less, then you can portray the character.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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