Stars on Ice
Kurt List

Celebration on Ice - Stratford & Newmarket, ON - Dec. 13 & 14, 2012

written by Tina

The 10th and final Celebration on Ice tour visited four cities in Ontario in December 2012. I was lucky enough to go to the first two, in Stratford and Newmarket. The 2012 tour was special in a number of ways, featuring local skaters, singing and hosting by Geoffrey Tyler, and a collection of fun group numbers. However, the major highlight for most people was the fact that the tour brought four Canadian men's world champions together on the ice for the first time. Not only was this the first time that Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko, Jeffrey Buttle, and Patrick Chan all were in the same show cast, the show also featured the four of them skating a special group number together, late in the second act. But more on that later.

Before getting into talking about the show itself, the Newmarket show had a special pre-show perk that some fans took advantage of. For $20, fans had the opportunity to do a 90 minute "Skate with the Stars", where they could skate around the rink where the show was to take place, and have the chance to get photos, autographs, and if they were lucky, a bit of a skate with the stars of the show. I didn't do the Skate with the Stars myself, and I left early, but I did watch for a while, and it was fun to see the skaters interact with the fans in this way. Some skaters, like Kurt, Patrick, Joannie, and Elvis, spent most of the time surrounded by a mob of fans waiting to get an autograph, but others did manage to take some turns around the ice, even doing a little dancing with some of the fans.

This will be a joint review of the Stratford and Newmarket shows. One cast note: Violetta Afanasieva and Pete Dack were supposed to be in the show, but had a last minute family illness, which prevented them from skating in the show. Canadian junior champion Gabby Daleman was a very last minute addition to the show, coming in the morning before and learning the entire show in less than a day.

Act I

Opening - Breathe - Fiona & Noah Bombardier, Joannie Rochette, Kurt Browning

The 2012 show borrowed some elements of the 2011 show (which visited entirely different markets), but had a brand new opening number. This number featured Fiona and Noah Bombardier, tour producer Jean-Michel Bombardier's children, as the younger incarnations of Joannie Rochette and Kurt Browning. As the children took the ice, Joannie's and Kurt's voices spoke over the children skating. They spoke of the very first competition each entered, their pride in the first trick they were able to do in figure skates, how Joannie's father was an ice fisherman who really wanted to be a hockey dad, and Joannie's ice time came from his need to have someone tell him when the fish were biting, while he sat in the warming hut. Eventually, Joannie and Kurt took the ice in the same costumes the children were wearing, to take a turn with their little mini-selves, as the voiceovers encouraged the audience to keep dreaming.

Opening - Jingle Bells - Cast

This transitioned into an opening number with all the skaters, who were quickly introduced by Geoffrey Tyler as they took the ice. This was a really fun, fast-paced number. The skaters looked like they were having a blast, as they danced and sped around the ice. The number featured a lot of interaction between the skaters as they wove in and out of each other, or laughed with each other. There was a cute moment when the cast formed a sleigh together, with Joannie and Gabby prancing in front as the deer, Kurt and Shawn Sawyer followed behind bent over like the front of the sleigh, Eric Radford carried Meagan Duhamel like the seat of the sleigh, and Jeffrey, Patrick and Elvis followed behind ...not sure if they were driving the sleigh or acting as the waving hand decoration of the back of the sleigh. Either way, it was cute. The cast also did 2-axels, one after another, until Shawn came along last and did a backflip instead, prompting the rest of the cast to laugh and gesture in mock outrage at his breaking the pattern.

Geoffrey Tyler, Kurt's good friend and the show's co-director and co-choreographer, then took the ice to warm the crowd up. He did silly things like asking the crowd to shout out their favorite skater, and then saying "Yeah, is my favorite too!", and also asking them to all shout out their names at once. He then introduced the first skater, Elvis Stojko.

My Sharona - Elvis Stojko

Elvis' "My Sharona" is what I would call a classic Elvis program. It's upbeat, fast, and rock-based, with a lot of audience interaction, some very solid jumping, and super fast, centered spins. It features trademark moves of his, like spinning/sliding on his hands on the ice, picking an audience member to flirt with, and getting huge cheers when he stops and points into the audience. It's not my favorite type of program, but Elvis definitely hasn't lost anything when it comes to technical skill. The audience adores him, too. Not a bad way to start off a show.

Local pair

In Stratford, a local pair (I didn't catch their names) came out to skate a Christmas program. It was interesting - the boy was quite the extroverted performer, mugging up a storm and really engaging the audience, while the girl was obviously quite shy and kind of faded next to the boy, smiling mostly at him. They did some nice lifts, though, and it was a fun little program.

Footloose - Gabby Daleman

Geoffrey came out to introduce the Canadian junior champion, Gabby Daleman. In Newmarket, she got a bit more of an intro, since she was local to the area, and a bit more acknowledgment of the great way she'd stepped up to her very last minute inclusion in the cast. Gabby came out in a cute pink plaid shirt and short denim shorts, and proceeded to charm the audience with her dynamic skating and audience engagement. She's definitely got a spark, and some solid skating to back up that spark. This was a very fun, fast, quick-stepping number.

Tropical Christmas - Shawn Sawyer

I believe Geoffrey introduced Shawn as a very "unique" skater. Shawn came out in a dreadlocked wig and baggy sweater, just kind of jamming away to "Don't Worry, Be Happy". The number has a very laid back, reggae-kind of feel, and Shawn clearly enjoyed evoking that kind of tropical island vibe. The music even had the sound of waves crashing in the background. Compared to some of his other numbers, this one was a bit of fluff, but it was a bit of fluff I quite enjoyed, and a different take on a holiday number. I'm also not 100% sure, but I think he may have tried a jump or two in the opposite direction in this number.

O Holy Night - Jeffrey Buttle

One of the things I loved best about Celebration on Ice was the opportunity to really see just how different, and great in their own distinctive way, each of these Canadian men are. I count Shawn in that number, even if he never was a world champion. The contrast between "Tropical Christmas" and "O Holy Night" was rather striking. Shawn's program was laid back tropical island, Jeffrey's was emotional and sincere Christmas. Jeff just paints a beautiful picture on the ice, feeling each note of the music and creating beautiful lines on the ice. His flow and body line are just gorgeous, and really highlight one of my favorite Christmas songs.

Formidable - Joannie Rochette

With all these great Canadian men, it's important not to lose sight of the great Canadian women as well. In particular, Joannie Rochette, who has kept her technical skills up beautifully despite not actively competing, and has really developed as a performer in the process. Formidable is a great showcase for Joannie - it's a number that seems uniquely her, that I can't really imagine any other ladies' skater pulling off. I've mentioned in the last few reviews I've written that I've seen Joannie do this program a lot, but I've realized that I can't really complain. It's a great program.

Hometown Glory - Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford

Eric Radford strikes quite a figure on the ice, especially in contrast with the other men in the cast. He's super tall, and has the hair and good looks of an ice dancer, in my opinion. I also think that together, he and Meagan Duhamel create some of the drama of ice dance in their expressions and body language, despite being pairs skaters. Their first number was emotional and beautiful to watch, with some nice lifts and throws. They really captured the feel of Adele's song.

Two Figure Skates (All I Want for Christmas) - Kurt Browning

At this point, it was time for Geoffrey Tyler to set aside his hosting duties and take up his singing microphone, providing the live vocals for Kurt's "Two Figure Skates" number. The number started with the lights down and the voiceover of a woman playing Kurt's "mom" giving Kurt his Christmas present, and Kurt's excited reaction and then disappointed "HOCKEY skates??". The lights came up on Kurt sitting sulkily on the ice, poking dispiritedly at the rounded blade of the hockey skates on his feet, wearing his "iSk8" baseball cap and "I Wish I Was Taller Toller" shirt. After making some disgusted faces, he finally got to his feet to try out his hockey skates, and promptly began slipping and sliding down the ice, windmilling his arms wildly as his feet slid in all directions, rolling off the toe and skidding all over the place. It's pretty incredible, actually, how fast and out of control his feet appeared to be flying, while he really is in control the whole time. I really love this program - the theme, the progression from disgusted inability to use the hockey skates, to the gradual realization he can do tricks in these skates, to the determination to be "like Brian Orser", to the joy as he masters the skates. The 2-axel in hockey skates is always impressive (in Stratford, one hand came down but never touched the ice. In Newmarket, he fell but then did a "retake" after the program ended, citing choreographer's privilege), as are the sequence of 1-axels and 2-sal he does later in the program. But it's the footwork and the character that I think really sells the program. At the end, Geoffrey Tyler skated to center ice, talking to Kurt like he was talking to a little boy who was up past his bedtime (and Kurt answering in a little boy voice). As I mentioned, in Newmarket, Kurt seized this opportunity to retry and land a solid 2-axel, grabbed the mic to say that he got to do that as choreographer of the show, and then ran off the ice (initially in the wrong direction until Geoffrey called him back).

Kingdom Come - Patrick Chan

Finally, the fourth world champion and the one making his debut in Celebration on Ice, Patrick Chan, took the ice. Stylistically, his program couldn't have been more of a contrast to Kurt's goofy, out of control, hockey skates number. His program was pensive and soulful, with deep flowing edges and command of the blade. I've never actually seen Patrick skate live before, and it was a pleasure to see that famous flow in action. He has a way of almost falling from one move to another in an effortless way, and changing direction seamlessly, which I thought was both kind of subtle and kind of cool.

At the end of his program, Geoffrey came out to banter a bit with Patrick, joking that if he kept working hard he might accomplish something. Patrick spoke about being happy to be skating in Canada. Geoffrey then left Patrick on the ice to introduce the next two skaters. This was the spot in the show for two local skaters to skate. In Stratford, Patrick joked that they were going to have a Hunger Games-esque competition to decide who would skate first (the boy deferred, saying "ladies first"), while in Newmarket he just said they'd have a fight or something like that to determine it. This bit was a bit akward, mostly because the kids didn't seem to really know what to say (and seemed super nervous about their upcoming performances), but cute to have the current champion introducing the next generation of skaters.

Local Skaters

I don't actually know the names of the local skaters in the shows, unfortunately. Newmarket seemed to have higher level skaters than Stratford. Both skaters in this section in Stratford did somewhat shaky single jumps and were clearly nervous to be out there (it must be terrifying to skate in the show with all these champions in front of a full arena). The skaters in Newmarket were definitely more solid on the ice, though the first girl didn't smile much until her bows (seemed like nerves). The second girl impressed because her smile was ear to ear and she definitely had a performer's spunk to her.

Wooden Soldiers on Parade - Jean-Michel Bombardier, Kurt Browning, Jeffrey Buttle, Eric Radford, Shawn Sawyer, Elvis Stojko, Gabby Daleman, Meagan Duhamel, Fiona & Noah Bombardier

This was one of the group numbers that they did in the 2011 tour, but the number had a bit of a revamp for the 2012 tour. The number featured Fiona and Noah more centrally, and made it more clear that the 6 "soldiers" and 2 "dolls" were the kids' toys. In Stratford, it was 5 soldiers, since Jean-Michel's duties as tour producer interfered with his ability to rehearse with the performers, but he learned the number and skated with everyone else in Newmarket. The number begins with the kids kind of poking and taunting the soldiers, who pick the kids up quizzically, and hand them down the line. The soldiers then go out marching around, while the kids skate with the "dolls". Kurt seems to like to make Shawn the odd man out in his choreography - in this number, Shawn takes a spill on the ice while the rest of the soldiers line up, and then gets stuck in a split when the other soldiers find themselves falling into split positions and pull themselves up. He then gets carried around (with a look of outraged pain on his face) in split position by the other soldiers. The number is super cute with a lot of funny personality from the soldiers as they march and dance around. It finally ends with all the toys gathering around the sleeping kids, and going to sleep themselves. It's hard to describe in a way that does it justice.

Synchronized Skaters

The first act ended with a performance by the local synchronized skating team. Again, the Newmarket team seemed more polished in general than the Stratford team. The Stratford team confused me because their music ended and then they proceeded to do a bunch more skating and tricks, before ending in an elaborate bow. Not sure what was going on there.

Act II

Act II opened with the local Learn to Skate skaters skating around the ice in a Christmas number. In Stratford, these were the most adorable tiny kids, shuffling around the ice in their helmets, following Santa around while they waved at the audience and did their tiny bits of choreography. In Newmarket, this was a more polished number with shiny purple costumes and actual choreography. Newmarket also seems to have a couple tiny Shawn Sawyers in the making, with two little boys doing some super flexible legs up to their heads skating, like Shawn. There's some definite talent in that pool of skaters.

In Stratford, the Learn to Skate number was followed by another pair of local skaters. The little boy that went first was clearly nervous, but gamefully landed his singles and did his choreography. The little girl who went next, dressed in a Little Mermaid costume, was a definite performer. She seemed to really enjoy being out there, smiling at the audience, and skating with a little bit of flair.

Deck the Rooftop/ Anything You Can Do - Gabby Daleman (and Zachary Daleman in Newmarket)

One of the biggest switches from Stratford to Newmarket was in this number. In Stratford, Gabby skated alone to a cute, fast-paced "Deck the Halls" number, wearing a shiny green dress with a flared short skirt. In Newmarket, though, she was joined by her brother Zachary, a local champion in his own right. The two of them did a cute little "Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better" number, trading off skating, and sort of mocking their sibling while not skating. Gabby's brother was...sassy. Not sure I could come up with a better word for it. He seemed to get a kick out of being out there, and really played up the rivalry/teasing his sibling aspect of things. Gabby did manage to do her "Deck the Rooftop" number in the midst of this (with Zachary standing on the ice the whole time, occasionally mirroring/mocking her moves). That's quite a talented family right there.

Geoffrey Tyler made a point at this point of talking about the amazing talent in the cast, with the four world champions. He pointed out that the presence of all four of these skaters immediately led to the question of who should skate first, who should skate last, etc. After giving it a lot of thought, he said that they decided to go with "beauty before age" and correspondingly introduced Patrick Chan first.

I Need a Dollar - Patrick Chan

Patrick Chan's "I Need a Dollar" program was very much centered around a baseball hat, which worked its way into the choreography in a way very in keeping with the "I Need a Dollar" theme. It was fun, and had some pretty cute/cool moments of Patrick hopping on his toepick in a circle while holding his hat out beseechingly. Patrick is also very skilled at wrangling that hat, though things went a bit more smoothly with the hat in Stratford than Newmarket. I couldn't help but feel that the program felt really familiar, though. It was all explained when I learned that Christopher Dean had choreographed the number. It feels very much like Ilia Kulik's similarly choreographed by Christopher Dean baseball cap number, and a bit like Kurt's choreographed by Christopher Dean Red Hat number. Christopher Dean is brilliant, but I'm not sure this particular bag of tricks is quite as deep as he might think it is. Patrick did a good job of performing it, though. As a standalone program, if you aren't aware of those previous Christopher Dean programs, it's great.

Big Love - Jeffrey Buttle

In keeping with the "beauty before age" theme, Jeffrey Buttle came next, skating his "Big Love" number from the 2012 Stars on Ice tour. I love this number. It's one of those programs that you see a skater do and can not imagine any other skater pulling off. There's a building intensity and underlying tension running through the music which finds its mirror in the live wire tension running through Jeff's body and posture. I like that the music isn't "typical" skating music - not your slow ballad, not your bombastic rock or dance number. And I like that Jeff pulls it off with a unique interpretation that feels different from the passionate sincerity he infuses in so many of his other programs.

Above the Northern Lights - Elvis Stojko

This is the third show in a month I've seen Elvis do this program in (Holiday Moments on Ice, Holiday Festival on Ice, and Celebration on Ice) and I still love it. If "My Sharona" was a "classic" Elvis number, I feel like this number revealed a different side to his skating, one he pulled off beautifully. He really captures the mystical dreamy feel to the music, and does an intricate, sincere interpretation that goes beyond the generic reaching-arm choreography that often goes into this kind of (originally intended to be) one-off number. It's a lovely, lovely program, and I really enjoyed it.

Singing in the Rain - Kurt Browning

Again, the contrast between styles of these great skaters was never more evident than when Kurt came out skating to his classic "Singing in the Rain" program, translated to the live ice. Contrary to what many people seem to believe, prior to this season, Kurt has never performed this program in front of a live audience. The only previous incarnation was in his TV special, with pouring rain and a set that reproduced the movie set. I had originally wondered how that program would translate to the live setting, sans set and rain. Any doubts I had were dispelled the first time I saw this number this year, and each time I've seen it since then has only solidified in my mind how great the program and Kurt's skating is. He needs no prop besides the umbrella to evoke the number, and he uses that prop extremely effectively and skillfully. Even completely exhausted after leading long days of rehearsal as choreographer and co-director, with his legs failing him and some of his jumps correspondingly failing him (in Newmarket, particularly), he still exuded joy and sheer delight in "Singing in the Rain". The number is such a great encapsulation of Kurt - that footwork, the convincing character work, beautiful jumps, that dancing ability. It's just a joy and privilege to watch live.

Jingle Bell Rock - Meagan Duhamel & Eric Radford

The show was structured in an interesting way, because usually with the four world champions in the cast, their numbers would be stacked at the end of the second act. Instead, the show went a different direction. As a result, after "Singing in the Rain" ended, Meagan & Eric came out to perform their second number. This was a fun, high-flying Christmas number, with a great deal of personality and exciting tricks. In particular, they have a cool release that I can't even describe, where Eric is spinning Meagan around by the hand and ankle, and then basically tosses her horizontally through the air to land on her feet. The two of them also seem to have taken a trick from Ina & Zimmerman (or Brasseur & Eisler)'s book, ending with a move where Eric holds Meagan out upside down by her ankle and hand as he spins around.

Alegria - Shawn Sawyer

Shawn Sawyer may not have the medal count and World Records of his top-billed compatriots, but as far as I'm concerned, he is easily their equal as a show skater and performer. And when it comes to showing the contrast of styles of all these great Canadian men, there is none more different and unique than Shawn. Alegria is a perfect encapsulation of this - Shawn as wild, intense, strange creature whose flexibility and balance are astonishing, and whose intense stare captures the audience. Once again, this is a perfect match of program to skater - nobody else could do this program like Shawn.

The Christmas Song - Joannie Rochette

Bringing down the intensity, and bringing up the Christmas feel of the show, came Joannie, skating a lovely program to "The Christmas Song." I have to admit that after the cool intensity of "Alegria", this relatively simple Christmas carol didn't quite do it for me musically. But Joannie's interpretation of it was beautiful, with beautiful lines and flow, and a simple, yearning feel to the interpretation. I really believed she was dreaming of the warm comfort of that fire and Christmas with her family.

Some Nights - Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko, Jeffrey Buttle, Patrick Chan

The real and absolute highlight of the night came last. It seems the reason that they stacked the solo programs by the four world champions in the beginning of the second act was so that the four would be ready to skate together in this simply awesome group number to "Some Nights" by fun. The music choice was inspired, in my opinion. It's so triumphant, so driving, and the choral aspect really works well as the music for a true group number like this. As the song started, the four stood in a square, with each taking a solo turn in the center of the square. This was a fun, dynamic way to see each skater in action with a few signature moves (footwork for Kurt, spread eagle for Jeff, etc). Then the four came together to line up and face the audience and skate in sync to the driving, aggressive beat. The whole number had this aggressive feel to it which just kept moving. The four guys clearly had a wonderful time skating together - the grins on their faces as they looked at each other, the very present expressions on their faces as they faced the audience and did their choreography. They were all super into it, and it was so cool to watch. The number of course featured the four skating as a group, doing jumps in unison, and doing scratch spins in unison. I really can't do this number justice in words. I couldn't stop smiling the entire time I watched it, though. That number alone made the trip to see these shows worth it.

At the conclusion of the number, the four guys were busy exchanging hugs and high fives as Geoffrey came out. He went into detail about the amazing records the four held collectively. Ten world titles between them - an entire decade's worth. Five Guinness World Records. A bunch of other titles and stats that I can't even remember, there were so many. But only three hairbrushes/combs between the four of them (Kurt gave him a dirty look, Patrick rubbed his head comfortingly). There was more ribbing on Kurt's age ("I'm still trying to get over that 'beauty before age' comment") and general hairlessness (as Kurt said later, this is what happens when you give his friend a microphone). As the four guys left the ice, Geoffrey called back the "old guy" to chat. Kurt pointed out he was only a bit older than Geoffrey himself. There was some more banter before they agreed to do a bit more skating if Geoffrey would sing. And thus they transitioned into the finale.

Finale - Cast and Geoffrey Tyler

Geoffrey led things off by skating around the ice while singing a quick Christmas medley. As he finished up that song, the other skaters had made their way onto the ice, standing in a group at the end. Geoff asked for volunteers to skate, and Eric and Meagan eagerly put their hands up. They then did their turn around the ice as Geoffrey sang "Deck the Halls," only to be interrupted by Shawn, who came running out, pointing at himself and pulling Eric away. Meagan stood with her hands on her hips and watched as Eric skated around with Shawn before throwing him into a jump (double loop??). I spoke to Eric about it later, who pointed out that Shawn jumps in the opposite direction, which actually made this throw doubly challenging, but fun to do. Shawn then went away so Meagan and Eric could finish skating together.

When they were done, Geoffrey invited Joannie and Gabby to join him, and skated out with a girl on each arm, singing "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." The two of them oriented their skating around him, at one point breaking away to dance down the ice, or to do side by side layback spins, but otherwise pretty much skating around him. As they skated, though, Kurt, Shawn and Jeffrey made their way out onto the ice. The girls skated around them to transition, and then it was the guys' turn to skate to "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer". This was a goofy bit, with the three of them skating side by side, at times wildly gesticulating and dancing, or pretending to lose their balance. At one point, each of them skated directly for Geoffrey, just barely missing him at the last minute, causing him to rather amusingly crack up while singing in Stratford, and to cringe in fear in Newmarket. Not to be outdone, Patrick and Elvis came out to take their turn on the ice. After skating around Geoffrey, they encouraged him to do a trick of his own, so he went into a two foot spin, breaking out of it directly into a sung note. The other two kind of made "eh, so-so" faces and then kept skating. Eventually, all five guys took the ice together.

This would seem almost a logical place to end things, but Geoffrey kept up the banter, asking Kurt if he could skate just one more time. Kurt agreed but said that as long as they have this reigning two-time World Champion at their disposal, they may as well take advantage of it, and sent Patrick Chan out to lead things off. Patrick therefore had a nice solo turn to "Silent Night" before being joined by the entire cast. There was some lovely group skating in this final bit, which ended with Geoffrey, Noah, and Fiona at center ice as the cast skated with their hands joined around them. Then it was time for a final group bow to "Sleigh Bells," and the skaters took off around the rink to slap hands with the on-ice people before skating off the ice, bringing an end to a great (two) evening(s) of skating.

Celebration on Ice is always a great show that showcases some amazing Canadian talent, both world-level and local. This year's show had all that, but took things to another level with the four world champions and how it used them. Kurt and Geoffrey's choreography and concepts for the group numbers were clever and inventive, and the skaters clearly had fun performing them. It's really too bad if this really is the final year of the tour. I hope the show comes back and continues to provide these great opportunities for audiences to see all this great skating. In the meantime, I'm left with happy memories and "Some Nights" repeating in my head.