The hit Broadway musical Kimberly Akimbo opens at an ice-skating rink called Skater Planet, where the characters are singing, "We'd rather be here skating—in New Jersey." It's an important location for the musical—a space for making friends, to have a party, and to transform. The end of Act One returns to Skater Planet, and the entire cast ice skates on stage for the song "This Time," gliding and spinning with the greatest of ease. Some Broadway audience members have been asking: Are those real ice skates they're wearing, or are they modified? Well, according to a video posted by Kimberly Akimbo's Instagram account, those are indeed real skates.
Broadway has seen roller skates on stage before (The Little Mermaid, Starlight Express). But it's rare to see ice skates because, ostensibly, it would also require actual ice in the theatre. There is no real ice-skating rink in Kimberly Akimbo. In order for the cast to slide across the stage wearing real ice skates, the stage of Kimberly Akimbo is coated in liquid glycerin. When the skating scene is about to happen, the cast lace up their skates and also coat the blades with liquid glycerin. This allows them to smoothly move with the skates on, and not damage the floor in the process. See how the magic happens in the video below.
And scroll down further to read more from the show's creative team.
It's a cool video, but it left us with even more questions, such as, is there a special type of surface they are skating on? How often is the stage of the Booth Theatre coated? We reached out to the creative team at Kimberly Akimbo, and they were game to answer our questions, and give us some more stage skating trivia.
The show's stage manager Mario-Mars Wolfe says that the stage surface is actually a polyglide floor, which is treated twice a week with a glyerine solution. "There are glycerin trays on each side of the stage which the cast step in just before they enter skating. The glycerin helps get the glide they need to perform Danny [Mefford’s] choreography. The skates are taken by our wardrobe supervisor to a professional skate sharpener every two weeks to be sharpened. We have discovered that as the actors get more skilled at skating, they wear through the blades faster so now some of them have new higher-grade steel blades."
The show's choreographer Danny Mefford told us that it's not actually pure glycerine because that would be way too slippery: "Getting a sense of glide, while not making it dangerous to perform the rest of the show by making the floor too slick, was a real negotiation. I think the ratio we settled on was one part glycerin to seven parts water." Mefford was actually the one who tested out the skating-on-glycerine method for the first time, all the way back in 2020—before the show's Off-Broadway run.
Set designer David Zinn admitted when they were discussing doing ice skating onstage, he was skeptical, saying, "There was huge leap of faith that this project would even work. The first, to me, most exciting step was when Danny and I met at the ice theatre rehearsal place in December of 2020 and Danny was able to skate on the material for the first time. And we could determine that you could skate and also walk on it in regular shoes. Getting to send that video around to folks, that maybe we had a solution to the skating (which I was skeptical about, but [director Jessica Stone] kept the faith) was a bright spot in that very depressing time. Then we just had to find out if they made [the floor] in black..."
After the creative team figured out that they could make the skating happened, then the next question became: was the cast up for it? The show's actors enrolled in skating lessons for a week before the 2021 Off-Broadway production of Kimberly Akimbo. Then they had another week of lessons before the show's Broadway run. The lessons were at Chelsea Sky Rink, under the instruction of its head Stephanie Hernandez. Mefford adds that Hernandez gave both him and the show's lead, Tony-nominee Victoria Clark, private skating lessons.
Clark plays Kimberly, who comes from a dysfunctional family and has a disease that makes her age five times faster than normal humans. The skating scene, which takes place on Kimberly's birthday, is the first time she's able to truly let loose in the show. To showcase that transformation, Clark attended weekly skating lessons between the show's Off-Broadway and Broadway run.
Says Mefford, "It was one of the major changes I wanted to make to the production number [on the way to Broadway]: that Kim takes part in the physical joy of her party. Vicki was incredibly game and is so disciplined. She and I met at the Skyrink once a week all summer long before Broadway."
With such a feat of stagecraft, it's no wonder that Kimberly Akimbo is nominated for eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. Tune into the ceremony on June 11 to see if the show will skate away with any prizes.