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Restoring The Magic

Lakewood Native Resumes Touring With Disney On Ice

Lakewood native Morgan Johnson resumed touring with Feld Entertainment’s production of Disney on Ice in October after a seven-month layoff due to COVID-19. Her production is now one of the only touring productions in the country amid the pandemic. Submitted photos

Rehearsals operate differently.

Crowds pack the arenas in much smaller sizes.

Even the choreography now accounts for social distancing.

But when Lakewood native Morgan Johnson takes the ice for a Disney on Ice “Dream Big” performance, nothing has changed the thrill of performing — or the thrill of putting a smile, albeit hidden by a mask, on a child’s face.

“It’s a lot less people which is sad, but the excitement is still where it was before,” Johnson told The Post-Journal recently from the tour’s current stop in Indianapolis. The cast will then travel to Charleston, S.C. this weekend and Kansas City the following weekend.

“This is one of the first productions people are able to see since March and we love that we can provide a safe avenue for them to see live entertainment, take a moment to forget what is going on in the world right now and have some semblance of normalcy in their lives,” she said.

Johnson has been touring with Feld Entertainment’s production of Disney on Ice since 2018.

A graduate of Southwestern Central School, she completed her bachelor’s degree in communications from the State University of New York, University at Buffalo while on tour last December.

Months later, her livelihood was in question as the spread of COVID-19 threatened her tour’s completion and even its resumption.

“Disney on Ice had shows all over the world at the time,” said Johnson, who noted that she was in Canada as the virus began to show its teeth in early March.

“We had one show in the morning and then our manager emailed us, we had a meeting and they said our shows had been canceled for the rest of that weekend, but that we would travel to the next city for the shows,” she said. “Later that night we got the email that the tour had been suspended for the year and that we all were going home. We didn’t know what to expect.”

In limbo, she returned home to Lakewood where she made the best of her situation — being home allowed her to reconnect with some friends and spend some well-needed time with family.

“It was a break that I didn’t know if I wanted, but that I probably needed,” she said. “I wouldn’t change that for the world. We had such a great summer and being on Chautauqua Lake was a great place for me personally to spend time during the pandemic because there’s just so many outdoor things to do. It really was a blessing in disguise.”

Prior to the pandemic, her schedule did allow for “a month off here and there in the summer, but nothing too long.”

“With this job you’re really at the mercy of what they want and someone will always want your job so if you say no, someone is next in line to take it,” Johnson said. “You have to be ready to go.”

“Ready to go” she was in October when she received notice that she had been selected to join the cast of the first production to resume touring in the United States. To date, it is still the only performing arts event touring in the country.

“I found a week and a half before I was leaving in October,” she said. “I flew to Florida and we had three weeks of rehearsal and then we got out on the road.”

The cast is in its own touring “bubble,” Johnson said and occupancy in most arenas are capped at around 20% to 30%.

“We’re having as minimal outside influence on us as possible,” she said. “We get tested for COVID twice a week and we’re always sanitizing and six-feet apart. We’ve changed choreography to adhere to that. We keep our mask on most of the time, we get our makeup on and then it goes away once we hit the ice. The crew is always wearing masks and the locals. There definitely have been a lot of changes.”

Still, the reality of the pandemic did hit close to home for the cast several weeks ago — a positive test and subsequent mini outbreak forced the company to shut down for one week around Christmas time.

“It was the smart thing to do,” she said. “We took almost two weeks off and it really was a good way to refresh and hit the reset button. It made us reevaluate ourselves too. We had gotten a little loose and it got us back into a habit. It was definitely a good wakeup call with us that this is still going on in the world.”

She added, “Our problems aren’t going away, but things are looking good in 2021.”

Nevertheless, she does feel safe and has been continually impressed with the production company’s commitment to the cast’s safety.

“There are some people on the outside probably saying we’re crazy for doing this especially with all that’s going on,” she said. “We really are taking every precaution you could think of — our costumes are sanitized, laundered, face masks, face shields and sanitization. They really are taking this seriously and the venues have been great.”

Meanwhile, she’s just grateful to continue to be able to do what she loves.

“Even though things are different, just the fact but just the fact that I get to perform when I didn’t know when the next time I would be able to skate in front of an audience is just a blessing,” she said. “I know there were sacrifices that I and others had to make in order to make this dream come back. It’s a big sacrifice and some days really make you think, ‘Why are we putting ourselves through this?’ and you’re away for the holidays.”But it’s worth it when you get out in front of the audience.”

“When people come to the show they get to escape what’s going on in the real world for an hour and a half and step into the Disney magic,” she added. “We need that now more than ever. It breaks my heart to see the look on the kids’ faces, but just to know you made their day and made their day a little brighter is so special.”

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