Set designers are used to challenges. A theater might not be tall enough for a multistory structure. A stage might not be wide enough to accommodate a designer's grand vision.
And then sometimes the stage is made of ice.
That's what faced production designer Robert Little when he set out to create the worlds of "Princesses and Heroes," the latest show from Feld Entertainment's Disney on Ice franchise. "Princesses and Heroes" skates into Orlando next Friday for a weekend engagement.
Little is an old hand with the frozen stuff — he has been working with Disney on Ice for decades on such shows as "Princess Wishes," "Let's Celebrate" and "Aladdin."
Still, this show differed from previous experiences, Little said in a statement announcing the tour.
"This was an interesting show to design because we're telling so many classic stories," he said. "It was challenging to find a way to combine those through scenery that would be flexible enough to tell all those stories."
Unlike ice shows that tell only one or two stories, this one is trying to hit all the princess highlights: Sleeping Beauty and Prince Phillip, Belle and the Beast, Little Mermaid Ariel and Prince Eric, Cinderella and Prince Charming. Newer couples such as Tiana and Naveen from "The Princess and the Frog" and Rapunzel and Flynn Ryder from "Tangled" are also featured.
The common thread? A certain pixie-dust loving fairy.
"Most of the set pieces are influenced by our special guest Tinker Bell, who comes in on a trail of pixie dust to literally make these stories come to life by turning the set pieces into the necessary elements to fit each princess story," Little explains. "For example, in the 'Aladdin' scene she causes the bazaar and marketplace to magically appear on the ice. For 'The Little Mermaid,' she transforms the set into a seafaring ship with ropes, sails and cargo."
The centerpiece of the set is a waterfall — which presented its own difficulties.
"We had this idea early on about wishes and the types of places where you'd be compelled to make wishes. We hit upon the waterfall," Little says. "However, actually creating it was quite a challenge. We had to find a way to make the waterfall a cascading, multi-level piece, while containing the water off the ice to prevent melting."
The waterfall uses 125 gallons of water. Other materials — less tricky— used for the set pieces include vinyl, rubber, foam, carpet and plastics.
Then, there's the dragon. You remember? When Prince Phillip goes to wake the lovely Aurora in "Sleeping Beauty," he first must fight the evil Maleficent, who has transformed herself into a fire-breathing dragon.
"I have always loved the fabulous part of 'Sleeping Beauty' where Prince Phillip battles the thorns and the dragon," Little says. "We wanted to recreate it on ice with all the excitement, romance and drama from the original movie."
Spandex and aluminum were used to create a dragon nearly 12 feet tall and 30 feet long.
"Skaters actually guide the movement, which allows it to glide across the ice and be menacing in all kinds of interesting ways," he says.
Creating fairy-tale worlds is a dream job for Little.
"My one wish growing up was to be somehow in theater or entertainment, and I loved making models of magical places that I'd never been to," he says. "So I always wanted to be a creator of interesting places, and that has indeed come true."
'Princesses & Heroes'
• What: Touring Disney on Ice show
• Where: Amway Center, 400 W. Church St., Orlando
• When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 13; 11 a.m., 3 and 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14; 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 15
• Tickets: $55 front row; $37 VIP section; $16-$27 regular seating
• Call: 1-800-745-3000
• Online: disneyonice.comCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun