Halloween on Ice - Syracuse, Rochester, and Albany, NY - Oct. 15-17, 2015
written by Tina
"Nancy Kerrigan's Halloween on Ice" has a long tradition. The tour hasn't been held every year, but it's been in existence for a long time. In fact, the first time I ever met Kurt Browning was at Halloween on Ice in 1998, which I'm pretty sure wasn't the first year of the tour.
The 2015 edition of Halloween on Ice is visiting 15 cities in the US and Canada, and combines the creative talents of Nancy Kerrigan, her husband Jerry Solomon, and Kurt Browning. Together, they created and choreographed the show. The cast is an eclectic group of skaters, some very well established and others much less well known. There are acrobatic skaters, some aerial work, and a lot of free roaming characters on the ice throughout the show. In two of the three shows I saw, John Coughlin and Caydee Denney had a prior obligation and were unable to participate in the show, leading to Brent Bommentre filling in for a number of the roles John played throughout the show. In future shows, other members of the cast will also go missing - Nicole Bobek in Canada, and Johnny Weir during the weekend of Skate America. So the cast has needed to be flexible and adapt.
The show has a running storyline that links the programs together into a continuous story, albeit a loose one. With the exception of a few group numbers and a couple solos, the cast play generally consistent characters throughout, and stay in character even when they are not the central players on the ice. In fact, most of the skaters spend large portions of the show wandering along the sides of the ice, interacting with the audience in character, or watching the action on the ice. If you sat in the front row, you might have had a skater suddenly in your face trying to scare you, your view of the ice obscured from time to time, or your young children stolen away (for short turns around the ice). The general premise seems to be that Nancy Kerrigan is an old lady who falls asleep at a Halloween party. The whole show is her dream...probably. So I guess these dream characters are just wandering their way freely around her dream.
The show opens a bit differently in each city, depending on whether a local skate club participates or not. In Syracuse, a few skaters in ghost costume came out and were the "trick or treaters" at Nancy's door. In Rochester, a huge group of local skaters did a number to open the show, and then high-fived Nancy by her door on their way off the ice. In Albany, Nancy's children were the trick or treaters, skating around a bit and doing some tricks before coming to her door. I believe that at one of the Canadian shows, Kurt Browning's kids were the trick or treaters. After the trick or treaters, whoever they are, are taken care of, Nancy hangs up her witch's cloak and hat, revealing a grey curly wig and long black dress. She resolves a small fight that has broken out between Shawn Sawyer (dressed as a werewolf with a mask but no makeup under the mask) and John Coughlin (dressed as Frankenstein with a Frankenstein mask and no makeup underneath) over Alex Murphy. When John was absent, the fight was with Brent Bommentre, dressed as a mummy. That being resolved, she sits down in an armchair and for some reason falls asleep at her own party.
As she sleeps, a bunch of characters come out with white flags and surround her, obscuring her from view. When they pull away, they reveal a young Nancy, dressed up like a princess with a pink dress and tiara. Jozef Sabovcik comes out as a mysterious top-hatted figure, who skates around Nancy and basically introduces her to the dream world while performing his program to "Welcome to My Nightmare." It's hard to believe he won his Olympic bronze medal 31 years ago - he's still got his backflip, a fantastic delayed single axel (or tuck axel?), and some other signature Jozef moves.
As his program winds down, the rest of the cast come out on the ice, intent on haunting/frightening Nancy and pushing her around on the ice in the armchair. Kurt Browning wears a brown wig, disgusting teeth, and a hump as Quasimodo (I know of many people who didn't realize it was him for a large portion of the show). Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre are mummy/zombies, with pale white faces and loose strips of cloth hanging from their white costumes. Nicole Bobek is a white bat, while the acrobats Akop Makounian and Aidas Reklys are pirates. Alyssa Czisny is a ghostly girl, Alex Murphy a devilish (Lady Gaga-reminiscent) girl in red, while John Coughlin and Caydey Denney are Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein. They pester Nancy individually and collectively, while skating to music from Beetlejuice, driving her shrieking around the ice, pulling sheets of grey cloth out of the sides of her armchair to spin around and wrap around her. Eventually, they all wrap her up in a bundle of grey cloth and leave her by the side of the ice.
As she frees herself, John (/Brent) pulls a large black bag with
skates sticking out of it out on the ice. As Nancy skates curiously
towards it, he pulls the bag off to reveal..a large furry caterpillar
lying on the ice. Those who saw this number in the 2013 Canadian Stars
on Ice tour will recognize what's about to happen, but it's a fun surprise for those who don't. The caterpillar inches its way down the ice, stands on its head, and then pulls away to reveal Shawn Sawyer, dressed as a butterfly, with black body and colorful cloth wings attached all down his arms and the sides of his body. The music is "Carmina Burana," and Shawn somehow manages to sell both the overdramatic nature of the music with full commitment, as well as the butterfly character. The wings are a great visual accompaniment to his incredible spirals and spins. I also think Shawn may be the best jumper in the cast, landing the most triples the most consistently.
As the butterfly finishes up, two stiffy awkward mummies make their way onto the ice. Taylor Swift's "Shake It Off" comes on and suddenly these two mummies (Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre) are boogeying away. I actually really enjoyed this number - I thought it made clever use of the characters in the stiff movements and blank expressions, as well as in the early choreography, which utilizes a couple strips of mummy cloth to connect the two, while at the same time actually interpreting the music. It was a fun use of completely non-Halloween music in a way that actually worked with the characters to make a Halloween number.
The Kim mummy leaves the ice, but the Brent mummy is intrigued by a figure draped from head to toe in a long black gauzy gown, with red hands and red skates, making its haughty way out onto the ice. The black figure leads Brent around the ice, enticing him on, until finally they embrace, and Brent pulls the black gown off to reveal Johnny Weir (of course), dressed in bright red. Johnny's first number is to "Bloody Mary", a fast, Latin-sounding number, and he performs it to the hilt. The crowd in every city LOVED Johnny and he didn't disappoint. Even on the couple occasions he fell or tripped, he played it up to the hilt, either incorporating it into his choreography or humorously acting out some of the choreography while still seated on the ice, before getting up and jumping right back in.
For some reason, the next number was performed largely without spotlights, maybe because the character was a bat? (That's the generous interpretation. I mostly wondered if the spotlight guys were asleep on the job while watching the show). Nicole Bobek played a white bat, appropriately, since the bulk of the program was performed with her hanging high in the air from a white hoop! Apparently she's been studying aerial hoop for ~4 years, so while the program did feature her beautiful high legged spiral, low to the ice hydroplaning, spins, and a jump or two, the focus of the program was high in the air. Her transitions between positions on the hoop are still kind of awkward (in Albany, she was completely unable to get her foot through the hoop, keeping a game performer's smile on her face while struggling) but the actual positions she struck were lovely - fully extended and showing off her great flexibility. The music, "The House of the Rising Sun", also seemed appropriate, both in tone and because of the visual image of the rising hoop.
While they were missing from Rochester and Albany, for most of the tour, the next number is Caydee Denney and John Coughlin performing to "Uptown Funk", dressed as Frankenstein and the Bride of Frankenstein. The number opens with several of the other characters coming out blowing bubbles, and generally acting like wedding guests, as John in a top hat and light-trimmed jacket, and Caydee in a veil with a flower bouquet skate out like a bride and groom at the end of a wedding ceremony. This was a fast, fun number, with a gasp-inducing high triple (?) twist, thrilling lifts and spins, and a lot of moves that kept the audience gasping. At the end, the Brent mummy (a fairly promiscuous character, it seems), came out and embraced John-Frankenstein, while Caydee looked on, laughing.
Nancy Kerrigan's aspirational "If Only" program made more sense following John and Caydee's number than following Nicole's aerial hoop program. With the intended transition, she basically catches the bouquet from the wedding and then skates a wistful, longing program, choreographed a bit around that bouquet in the beginning, indicating her longing for something more. This kind of foreshadows why she willingly makes the transition she does later in the show, since it speaks to her character looking for romance like in the wedding she just witnessed, and reaching for something. When it followed Nicole's program, the bouquet was random, and the sense of what she was reaching for went missing a bit. This just speaks to how the show was designed to actually transition from number to number in a way that progressed the story, so it's a shame some cast members have to miss some of the shows.
As Nancy's number winds up, two rough pirates (Akop Manoukian and Aidas Reklys) make their way onto the ice, clutching a treasure map. The audience has already seen these characters throughout the first act, making their way around the ice, accosting members of the first row, "arrrrr"-ing a lot, and waving their scimitars at people. Now it's their turn to take center ice, fighting over the treasure map, and in the process flipping over each others' backs, and performing a host of acrobatic maneuvers. I enjoyed how they tried to integrate the moves into the program for the most part, as the pirates' tussling leads them to grab each other's feet and somersault across the ice (during this point, Quasimodo wandered out and was gesturing like he was rolling them along), or do a series of cartwheels where first one is on his feet, and then the other is. They kept the audience gasping with their various acrobatic moves, and were just fun characters to watch.
Quasimodo (aka Kurt) has been wandering around the ice throughout the pirate's number, and his attention is grabbed by a wistful figure in white, making her way onto the ice to skate to "Clair de Lune". Alissa Czisny plays a ghost - specifically, the ghost of Esmerelda - and her numbers are appopriately ethereal, soft, and floating. It's an interesting change up in song style and pacing, and well suited to the type of character she's playing. It's also a bit fascinating how well she stays in character and completely ignores the antics of the other skaters who are still wandering around the perimeter of the ice, occasionally making portions of the audience burst into laughter. Alissa's skating is lovely, and it's not hard to see why Quasimodo watches her with such interest and longing.
Esmerelda hasn't been ignoring Quasimodo, either - when she passes by, she gives him sweet encouraging smiles. So, overcome with love for her, Kurt as Quasimodo breaks out skating to "Little Ghost" by the White Stripes. Kurt pulls off an interesting trick skating as Quasimodo - he stays in character throughout, alternating lurching along with smooth skating, popping jumps out of nowhere but landing with Quasimodo's posture, and maintaining his lovelorn body and facial language throughout. He makes an endearing, awkward, smooth skating fast stepping character. It is difficult to imagine anyone else playing that role, but at the same time, he is virtually unrecognizable in the role.
Alissa stays on the ice for part of Kurt's number, but at the end she has disappeared, so Kurt goes looking for
her. In the meantime, Nancy and four brightly colored witches (one of
whom is Alissa, but as a different character) make their way onto the ice. The witches are Nicole, Alex, Alissa, and Kim, and evidently their rather fantastic costumes are designed by Nancy Kerrigan's son Matthew. Impressive creative talent! This is a rather silly, fun girls' number, where basically the four witches strut, spin, and move their way down the ice, with Nancy happily trying to copy them and join in. At the end, they gather around for some (pre-recorded voiceover) girl talk, the gist of which is that they know of a man who has been waiting a very very long time for Nancy...
And with that, a procession makes its way onto the ice - all the male characters carrying an elaborately decorated coffin. They set the coffin down on its end, and out comes Johnny Weir dressed as the vampire king. He scares the other skaters and proceeds to skate seductively around Nancy to "I Put a Spell on You". This was a neat group number with Johnny seducing Nancy to the dark side as the centerpiece, and with some cool group choreography as the other skaters helped him to weave his spell. There were bits that were a bit reminiscent of the Phantom of the Opera (Nancy sits on the front of the coffin with Johnny kneeling behind, gesturing dramatically, as they are pushed across the ice) but it ultimately culminates in Johnny biting Nancy and turning her into a vampire. She transforms from princess to vampire on the ice (taking the pink dress off under the screen of her fellow skaters to reveal the black dress beneath) as Johnny is carried triumphantly around the ice. The first act closes on Nancy being carried off the ice on top of the coffin, reaching towards Johnny.
As intermission draws to a close, a table with a crowned pumpkin on
top slide out onto the ice, and two thrones are also pushed out on the
ice in front of the curtain. Nancy and Johnny take the ice, fully
decked out as the vampire king and queen. Nancy has fully embraced her
new vampire self, and seems very happy skating with Johnny. Four
figures dressed in black with pumpkin heads take the ice and sit on
the thrones until the vampire king and queen make their way back. A
voiceover says that the vampire king and queen are entertained by
their subjects, and the opening strains of "Thriller" come on.
The four pumpkin headed figures surround the table, pounding on it,
and then the pumpkin on the table begins to rise up, revealing the
king pumpkin, who steps up onto the table, and is lowered to the ice
by two of his subject pumpkins. The music is actually not Michael Jackson's Thriller but the Glee mash-up of "Heads Will Roll" and "Thriller". The choreography akes full advantage of this, mixing choreography from Thriller with the pumpkin figures raising and lowering their heads, turning them around backwards, and removing them. The figures are all wearing black head socks under the pumpkins so it's impossible to tell who is who. However, thanks to being in warmups,
I can tell you that the king pumpkin is Kurt, and that two of the
figures are actually female - Alissa and Kim. The other two are Brent
and Jozef. This is a fun number that also has the king pumpkin paying
homage to the vampires at one point. Apparently some sort of hierarchy
exists in the creature world.
As the pumpkins leave the ice, a snarling, clawing, dog-like figure is
pulled onto the ice by Alex as the devil girl holding a chain attached
to a collar. This snarling figure turns out to be Shawn Sawyer, who
fully commits to the character of the werewolf. He has on cool
contacts, fangs, and serious sideburns (and apparently dyed his hair
black for the role) and is fully animalistic in body language and
manner. The character and skating and music ("Animals") are a perfect
match, and that werewolf has some serious jumps and spins!
Alex the devil girl comes out as Shawn's program concludes, and proceeds to lead him around by her powers of...sexiness? After toying with him for a while, she tosses her outer garment to him and proceeds to take to the ice while he retires to the company of the vampire king and queen, occasionally howling at her. Alex may not be as well known as or have the list of credentials of some of her compatriots in the cast, but she commands the ice quite convincingly, skating to "Howlin' for You/Maneater". Her look, with the heavy makeup, long blonde ponytail, and red costume, reminded me of Lady Gaga, but I'd be surprised if Lady Gaga could skate like this. In Albany, at the
end of her number, Alex flirted with Brent and sparked a fight between
a jealous Shawn-werewolf and Brent-mummy. This fight was called to a
stop by a zombie pit crew number who will make a larger appearance a
little later. In Syracuse, when Caydee and John were there, this fight
was between John and Shawn, until Caydee came out and took John
Caydee and John's second number, to "Tainted Love," is a fun number, with the two playing a bit choreographically with the lyrics of the song (I think at one point, he tries to strangle her?). It's full of lifts, triple twist, and thrilling pairs spins, like when she puts her feet around John's neck and he spins her around. I don't think there is much in the way of character work in the choreography, but it's a fun number overall.
Kurt (recognizable for the first time in the
show) and Jozef make their way onto the ice dressed as Ghostbusters,
and carrying a large bin. By Kurt's admission, this number is an excuse for two long time friends (who have known each other since 1985) to skate together, and it's a fun one. The two skate side by side, sometimes mirroring each
other, throwing off side by side axels, and footwork, and failing to
give each other high fives in amusing fashion. Suddenly, a ghost
brushes by them (not Alissa), and the two pursue their prey with great
zeal but not as great competence. Their proton guns cause a great deal of smoke initially, but don't banish the ghost. After chasing it down for a while, though, they manage to banish it to the bin and carry it off the ice. Side note: the ghost is obviously Shawn, given how high he raises his leg as he proceeds down the ice, and his ability to fit into that small box.
The Ghostbusters are replaced on the ice by four women dressed as a zombie pit crew. The four of them careen around the ice to a remix of "Radar Love" (mixed in with car sounds), crashing into each other and finally ending up in a heap at the end of the ice. Two race car drivers (Akop and Aidas) come out, whistling at them to pull themselves together and come help them. The race car drivers have steering wheels attached to the front of their driving suits, and zoom around the ice, almost crashing into each other, jumping and swooping right by each other, pretending one is the car and the other is the driver, and other tricks. They then each outfit themselves with skates on both hands (with the help of the pit crew), and do tricks where they glide on one hand and both feet, or do kind of a shoot the duck but with their hands also gliding on the ice. The hand skates also shoot off sparks, providing a cool visual effect, that is only built on when they later lose the hand skates and instead set the sides of their pants on fire. The lights go down and you just see the lines of fire on the side of their legs as they do footwork, crossovers, and acrobatic tricks (like jumping over each others' backs) with their legs on fire. The number culminates with sparks flying from their skates as first one does a backflip, and then the other does a backflip *over* the first guy lying on the ice. It's all crashing noises and flying sparks until finally both race car drivers are lying flat on the ice, and are helped to their feet by the pit crew.
The race car drivers can't resist flirting with and trying to kiss the ghost of Esmerelda as she comes onto the ice, but the Brent mummy escorts them off so she can go to skate her number. Alissa's second number, "Spooky", is more lively than the first number, and more heavily incorporates Kurt as Quasimodo, skating around her and generally looking besotted. It quickly becomes clear that Alissa-Esmerelda is equally taken with Kurt-Quasimodo (though more dignified about it). As her number draws to a close, she reaches a hand out to Quasimodo, inviting him to skate with her. After dancing together a bit, he is so excited, he breaks into his number, "Feeling Good".
"Feeling Good" is actually a number Kurt did a few years back, just skating as Kurt to Adam Lambert. It was a sexy, cool number. It's remarkable to see this version of the number - Kurt incorporates much of the same choreography but with the twist of doing it as Quasimodo. Smooth, sexy moves become more lurching and hunched over in execution. Coolness turns to goofiness. The fast footwork is still there, but coupled with the hunchback's posture. And he pulls off some beautiful jumps, despite the hump and heavy sweater. Also, since Alissa is on the ice the whole time, the choreography is centered more around her. There's even a comical interlude where Kurt goes "to the bench" at the end of the ice and has to receive encouragement and a drink from his male costars (like a boxer going back to his corner) to go back out and get Alissa. While I still prefer the original version of this program, I really enjoyed seeing how Kurt was able to take it and rework it to fit the character so well. It's almost unrecognizable.
As Quasimodo and Esmerelda leave the ice, the vampire king and queen take the ice, with Johnny relinquishing the spotlight to Nancy with a bow. If her first solo was her princess-self aspiring to something more, this solo features her vampire-self skating a serenade to her vampire king. The song, "1000 years" with the lyrics "I've loved you for a 1000 years, I'll love you for 1000 more" fits the vampire mythology well. Nancy skates beautifully, with her signature long held spiral (great for photographers such as myself), spread eagle, and choreography.
Of course, if the vampire queen skates a solo, so must the vampire king. Johnny skates around dramatically, flourishing his giant, cool cape as the other characters swirl around him, and then gives the cape to Alex. His number is less directly related to his character and his relationship with Nancy's character, and is rather more a straight ahead classical number to Khachaturian's Waltz. There is no doubt that to the US audiences, Johnny is the star of the show. Their reception of him is rapturous, and he rises to the acclaim, delivering a lovely, dramatic skate.
With the conclusion of the king's skate, it is time for the finale with the full cast. Everyone comes out, skating to the "Monster Mash", with each skater doing a bit of a spotlight move as they skate down the ice, and then performing the familiar Monster Mash moves as a group. There's a cute bit with Johnny coming out of the coffin all goofily, and a
highlight bit with Nicole up on the ring at the end of the ice (the
skaters started pointing her way after the first show, because not
everyone noticed her down there). The skaters generally seem to be
having a great time, goofing around with each other and just partying
The show ends on a bit of a more mysterious note, however - as the "Monster Mash" party winds down and most of the characters dance their way off the ice, the same skaters who were at Nancy's party at the beginning of the show stay on the ice, gathered around the table, while Nancy puts her grey wig and black dress back on. The implication is she's waking up from her dream and back at her party. However, as she peers more closely at her guests, things aren't quite what they seem. John pulls off his Frankenstein mask to reveal that he is still Frankenstein underneath (this worked less effectively when Brent played this role, since he just went "rarrr" at Nancy). Then Shawn pull off his werewolf mask to reveal he's still the werewolf, and starts growling at her with the same
animalistic body language he used as the actual werewolf. The
creatures all gather around her, making her scream, and then she turns
around and finds Johnny standing behind her. He, oddly, screams in fear too (which apparently wasn't the original intention), they all scream at each other, and then pile on top of Nancy, implying that she never left the nightmare at all.
Finally, it's time for bows, and for the skaters to be announced by name for the first time in the show. If anyone *still* hasn't figured out that Kurt was Quasimodo, they finally will be clued in, since he pulls the wig off and teeth out during his bow. The skaters all dance off the ice, and with that, the show is over.