This is part two of a slightly more epic tale. Surely you've read part one of this epic journey by now. After all, how are you supposed to enjoy the epic conclusion without the dramatic set-up? If you're just here because you want to see a bunch of guys perform James Cameron's Aliens as an icecapade, you've come to the right place and can find footage of the event below. If you're here for the nitty gritty details of the event, you've also come to the right place.
It's Friday night and Aliens on Ice is set to premiere in ninety minutes. You wouldn't know it: the ice is currently occupied by two hockey teams battling over a puck. The stands are packed with screaming fans. Austin may not be a winter sports town, but you wouldn't know it from the vibe in this room.
It takes me a little while to track down Sam Eidson and the rest of the Old Murder House troupe. They've sequestered themselves in room right off the rink. It's a large open space, but the handful of remaining booths and chairs make it immediately clear that this used to be the rink's restaurant before it was shut down. The room is littered with props, scripts, costumes and notes. The sound and music guys test their equipment. It may not be the ideal rehearsal space -- especially with cheers of the hockey loving crowd twenty feet outside the door rattling the walls every few minutes -- but the guys are making the most of it, making use of these final precious minutes to work out the kinks in their show.
It's a speed run, less about performance, more about line and cue memorization. Still, the group continues to tweak. It's not quite there yet. Going by the group's philosophy, it won't actually be "there" until they're in front of a crowd.
And this will be a maximum capacity crowd. With local movie fans lured by the novelty of seeing one of the most beloved genre films of all times performed on ice skates, this is a completely sold out show. Still, everyone is surprisingly calm, especially for a group that could barely stand up on ice skates two weeks previously. Sam, tasked with running the show as well as acting in it, is running around like a chicken with its head cut off, but his cast and crew seem to have entered a zen-like state. They've accepted whatever is about to transpire. Whether this is confidence in the show or exhaustion from several weeks of late night rehearsals, I cannot tell. I guess I'll find out in about 45 minutes.
The hockey game ends and the crowd begins their slow and steady trickle out of the rink. Then, Old Murder House gets to work.
Painted flats, more detailed and more beautiful than any of the sets in their previous shows, are pushed out onto the ice. Following them are carts loaded down with costume changes and props. I notice wigs and shotguns, alien "facehuggers" and a weedwhacker rigged to look like a flamethrower, Xenomorph masks and…a sex toy? Well, no one said Aliens On Ice was going to be entirely faithful to its source material…
A few new faces take to the ice. They're clad in skintight black body suits and they can skate like real pros. I've finally met the aliens of the show, the athletic, agile skaters who will be menacing the core cast.
Meanwhile, a few objects that will be familiar to any Aliens fan are carried onto the ice: the massive Alien Queen costume and the yellow power loader, both of which will be locked in mortal combat before the night is over. Even though I have now seen the props in person, I have absolutely no idea how they're going to pull off the finale. Heck, I have no idea how they're going to pull off any of this. I still don't know if any of them can skate!
With the props and costumes stashed behind the flats, the cast exits to get into costume and the crowd pours in. Every seat in the house is quickly occupied and it's time to play the waiting game. Like any theatrical production worth its salt, the show is a good fifteen minutes late getting started. This is the first Old Murder House production to use wireless mics and the sound testing proves, er, troublesome.
And then…it begins. Dual flashlights stream across a cardboard cutout of the 20th Century Fox logo and the title, the transparent letters illuminated from behind, is skated out before the audience. The crowd goes nuts. We're only thirty seconds in and they already have the audience in the palm of their hand.
Anyone who has seen Aliens can follow what transpires over the next 70 minutes or so. It's James Cameron's film on fastforward…and caffeine…and possibly cocaine. The show captures the little details and turns of phrases that fans will know by heart and cast makes creative use of the ice, never standing still when they have to. Ripley's confrontation with the board that accuses her of destroying the ship from the first film is transformed into humorously blunt exchange, with every party involved skating around each other in menacing circles. The colonial marines searching the seemingly abandoned colony of LV421 becomes a showcase for humorously clumsy figure skating. The subtle relationship between Ripley and Hicks becomes gloriously unsubtle when the two share a brief little spin together on the ice.
These guys may not be professional skaters, but they're not bad. Not bad at all. They're certainly not afraid of the ice and they're not afraid of taking risks. When they do stumble, they play it off beautifully and keep moving. They make the "on ice" part of the show look effortless until they make a mistake and then it becomes a newly improvised joke. Using expert skaters as the aliens is a truly inspired choice and seeing the aliens literally skate circles around the clumsy humans is a genuinely thrilling experience.
The show's strict adherence to to the plot of Aliens only makes the detours, both major and minor, all the more unexpected and hilarious. A chestburster breaks into song and serenades the shocked room with the Black Eyed Peas. The above mentioned sex toy makes a few bizarre appearances. A small joke from the film is extended and absurd sitcom lengths, complete with a comedic trombone sound effect. In the show's greatest moment, the aliens surround our heroes and instead of killing them, they break into "Be My Guest" from Disney's Beauty and the Beast, dancing, singing and skating up a storm. The shocked marines soon join in and for a few minutes, we're watching a full-fledged musical number, loose and sloppy in its choreography, but truly joyful and transcendent in performance. There are few things I have seen in 2011 that made me smile more. The extended pause after the song ends and before the marines and the aliens suddenly go for each other's throat is the biggest laugh in the entire show.
As with their previous shows, so much of the fun is seeing how they're able to pull off so many insane special effects. This show keeps with their visual modus operandi: cardboard, paper mache and fireworks. Lots of fireworks. So many fireworks that I fear for my life when I'm not fearing for the cast's. So much cardboard that I watch in wonder as the cast deals with various props and sets as they fall apart in mid-production.
When the Alien Queen (an epic construct of chicken wire and god knows what) goes toe-to-toe with Ripley in the power loader (a stunning, full-size costume built on a platform and maneuvered by two stage hands), my mind almost has a hard time comprehending what I'm seeing. An actor, ice skating with a top heavy alien costume over half of his body, is battling another actor strapped into a ten foot tall costume that he cannot control on his own. The ice is drenched in android blood (AKA, milk) from when Bishop got torn in half moments ago. A grown man in a blonde wig cowers on the ground, mimicking the performance of a pre-pubescent actress far too well. Charred pieces of set, abandoned props and firework discharge lie everywhere I see. The audience roars with laughter and the actors on the ice continue to whole thing completely straight. It's a miracle of live performance -- I've been watching these guys perform for several years now and this is the pinnacle of what they've done. It's their funniest performance, their most polished and their most daring. I truly have no idea how they're going to top this.
Halfway through the climax, the power loader costume collapses and the actor tumbles to the ice. He rises, dragging the shattered costume with him, one of the blades on his ice skate broken off, and pushes the Alien Queen out the airlock. The crowd roars. You don't get to see that every day.