Stars on Ice
Kurt in SOI
Creative Team

Canadian Stars on Ice Review - Vancouver, BC - May 7, 2006

written by Tina

Having seen both the Canadian and American versions of the tour this year, I have to say - the Canadian version is better. I don't know if it's the higher energy level brought by the newer cast members (or brought by the fact that they were two shows away from the end of tour), or the tighter choreography/execution by the seasoned cast members who had been doing this show for 50+ cities already, or what, but the whole show seemed more seamless, with more of a dynamic energy level than when I saw it in San Jose. The skaters looked like they were having *fun* out there, goofing off and cracking each other up, and when the skaters have fun, IMO, the audience has fun.

The Scott Hamilton videotaped intros were modified somewhat for the Canadian show. The first thing we saw was Kurt Browning on the monitors, welcoming us to the show and introducing Scott. Kurt basically handed the show off to Scott, first sitting next to Scott on his trunk while Scott talked about how when the Canadian show started, both of them still had bangs and now they "part their hair in the middle". Kurt's response was that Scott was his inspiration, but he thinks he took it a little too far... Kurt then took off to "prepare for the show" and Scott Hamilton proceeded to introduce the show, with an edited intro that was more relevant to the Canadian tour.

"Loverly Spring" - Cast

The "fake" opening, especially if you were in on the joke that the number was a gentle jab at the Ice Capades, was hilarious. All the little flowers prancing around their gardener men, Kurt with his butterfly net trying to catch the butterflies, etc, and the light skipping around to "Loverly Spring", and especially the mock seriousness with which the skaters performed the number, was priceless. Maybe it helped to be closer to the ice (5th row versus wherever it was up in the stands I sat for San Jose), seeing the skaters' facial expressions (especially after Scott stopped the action with his appalled cries and Todd (I think) sullenly tried to water one of the flower skaters).

Scott's cries that this was NOT what he had in mind, that he would do just about anything but he wouldn't do *that*, launched the "real" opening, with Jeff Buttle skating out to "I'd Do Anything For Love" in a simple black costume and stark music.

"I'd Do Anything For Love" - Cast

The "real" intro had each skater coming out and doing an extended bit alone on the ice, and then the group coming out and skating together. The number seemed to go out of its way to highlight simple, dynamic skating that spotlighted and emphasized each skater or couple individually, as opposed to faceless skaters in the group. Meatloaf is hardly my favorite singer, but the energy and speed of this number was great, and having Jeff Buttle kick it off worked really well. Jeff's youthful energy, drama, and speed, just set things going on a nice high note.

"Sing, Sing, Sing" - Jeffrey Buttle

And as Jeff kicked off the opening number, Jeff also kicked off the show, skating to "Sing, Sing, Sing". Jeff's got a great energy and rapport with the crowd, taking the time to grin hugely into the audience and connect with them. Jeff seemed to be having a great deal of fun out on the ice. I get the feeling that some of the eligible skaters on the ice may have been having slight problems with the lighting, since the landings on their jumps were sometimes kind of wonky, but they pulled it together and kept the performance going, which is what is really important on show ice like this.

"And the Beat Goes On" - Jennifer Robinson

Jeff's light, upbeat number, was followed by Jennifer Robinson's light, upbeat number of a slightly different flavor. The girl who sings the medley of songs Jen skates to to me sounds rather like Lea Salonga (of Miss Saigon fame), which throws me off at times, but Jen's got a light, flirtatious touch on this number. I'm not sure if the Canadian skaters are taught how to connect with the audience, or what, but somehow Canadian skaters just seem to have a great sense of entertainment, of trying to reach off the ice and draw the audience in, and Jen's no exception. This was a fun number.

"Come What May" - Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao

After two light numbers to kick things off, Shen & Zhao changed the mood a bit with their romantic, wistful skate to "Come What May" from Moulin Rouge. I have never seen these two skate before - at least not a whole number - and they were entrancing to watch. Their choreography and interpretation of the song was lovely, but it was their huge double twist that drew audible gasps and cheers from the crowd. Every pair seems to have their own out-of-this-world lift, and Shen & Zhao's had Shen suspended upside down, out in front of Zhao, which was quite exciting to watch. I think Shen & Zhao were a great addition to the Stars on Ice cast, and I hope they come back in future tours - American and Canadian.

"Resolution" - Elvis Stojko

Following Shen & Zhao, the lights came up - partly - on the seated figure of Elvis Stojko on a folding chair, wearing a hat and reading a book. This is the program he did for the Celebration on Ice tour this year, with the EXIT sign and the low lighting. The music had the sort of feel of "All Alone" (Kurt Browning's old program) - simple slow electric guitar - but a more low key feel. I'm pretty sure the program tells a story but I have to confess to not being sure what the story is, and what the significant of the Exit sign is. The program has an interesting mood to it, and Elvis skates it with conviction, but it ends oddly, with Elvis just standing by the Exit sign for a while, looking around, and then skating off the ice.

"Vole" - Joannie Rochette

As a fan of professional skating who almost never watches eligible skating, I've also never seen Joannie Rochette skate. The Stars on Ice tour this year was a nice introduction to her. Joannie's "Vole" program was a beautiful, fluid, and passionate skate to a fairly pretty Celine Dion song. Joannie was one of the skaters who occasionally seemed to have problems with the spots and the jumps, but she more than made up for it with her skating. Just a pretty, nice skate.

"Peace Frog" - Kurt Browning

After a few low-key, soft songs, Kurt Browning came out to punch things up a bit with "Peace Frog", a program that's all about attitude and footwork. Kurt fills this self-choreographed program with incredible footwork, fast, to the beat, edgy, and unlike any other footwork I've ever seen him do. As a fairly devoted fan who's seen practically everything Kurt's done, I would expect that by this point in his career, Kurt would have exhausted the possibilities of footwork by now, but he's constantly coming up with new ways to move that just blow me away. It's harder to get a sense of that in person than with closeups on TV, but even though my camera lens, I was impressed. Kurt exudes attitude on this number, and seems to have a ton of fun doing it. And his jumps were pretty well on and came out of nowhere.

"Elite Syncopations" - Jamie Sale & David Pelletier

While both Jamie and David have a lot of personality and are skilled at performing, Jamie Sale has really found her niche in professional skating, I think. She seems to absolutely love being out there and she just beams at the audience while she skates. But she also stays perfectly in character - if her character is supposed to be upset, she's got the facial expressions for it. "Elite Syncopations" really brings to mind the "Red Hat" Stars on Ice group number from the '96-96 tour, and I recognize a lot of familiar elements of Christopher Dean choreography, but Jamie and David really make the program theirs. The program was a personality-filled, fun, quirky skate, and I really enjoyed it.

"Alexander's Ragtime Band" - Todd Eldredge

I have to confess that after seeing this program three times, I just can't get into it. I think it's the music. Nothing to do with Todd Eldredge's skating, which is fantastic. I just find it hard to get into the music and therefore it's hard for me to find a connection to the program. I do think that Todd seemed a bit tired in Vancouver - after the whole US tour and the Canadian tour with scarcely any time to recuperate his injuries, who could blame him - and therefore his jumps were off and his spins slower than usual, but he still tried to give it his all in the performance. A nice program, but I much preferred his second program.

"Dance Medley" - Cast

I don't know if the show has tightened up since I saw it last, or if being closer to the ice helps a lot in terms of seeing people's facial expressions, or if I was just in a bad mood in San Jose, but I really enjoyed the hell out of the "Dance Medley" act I closer in Vancouver. Maybe it's because it was the second to last show and the skaters were loose and goofy during the number. At any rate, I frequently laughed out loud at various skaters' antics (as did the skaters - I saw them cracking each other up quite a bit) as I watched this number. "The Safety Dance" was utterly hilarious - I know I'm biased, but I think Kurt Browning added a great deal to this number with his goofy facial expressions and movement - and I got the whole concept of the singles skaters all being individualistic better than before. "I Can't Dance" was similarly hilarious, with Hongbo Zhao filling in neatly in Anton's role as the skater who was just a few steps behind. When the skaters got into their pinwheel, with Kurt as the overwhelmed and being pulled to the stretching point middle, I laughed out loud. This number was just fun, fun, fun, and a great way to end the first act.

Before intermission started, a video with Jennifer Robinson talking about World Vision came on. And throughout intermission, the video of past Stars on Ice skaters was shown. The only thing was, they hadn't changed the video for the Canadian tour, so most of the skaters shown were from various past American casts.

"Overture/Comedy Tonight" - Cast

Five minutes before the end of intermission, Scott Hamilton came on the videoscreen to tell the skaters "five minutes" before dress rehearsal, and five minutes to the audience as well to get back to their seats. As the lights came down, Scott introduced the dress rehearsal and the act II opening number began. This was a cute number, full of various mishaps. The main central joke was Jamie Sale continually losing her hat in various moves, but all sorts of side jokes were going on, like Kurt and Jennifer skating together, and then him dropping her (and her punching him in retaliation), missed cues, costume mishaps (David splits his pants and runs off the ice, only to return with a huge wad of tape on his butt), etc. At the end of the number, Kurt runs off the ice backstage, only to appear in the videoscreen next to Scott, who's trying to find the words to describe dress rehearsal. Looking apologetic, Kurt tells Scott "bad dress rehearsal, good show?" and then runs back off the video, reappearing out of the tunnel on the ice. I heard some people around me whispering to each other, wondering if Scott was actually there at this point. It was a nice little effect.

"The Impossible Dream" - Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao

Shen & Zhao got things going in the second act with a dramatic and lyrical skate to "The Impossible Dream". These two are beautiful and powerful skaters to watch, with a quite different style than either of the other pairs, which provided for a nice contrast and variety in numbers. And they brought out their incredibly high and delayed double twist again (she looks like she's just hanging there looking down at him before she starts rotating), as well as the upside down lift I described earlier. It was a fantastic skate.

Some song by Justin Timberlake - Emanuel Sandhu

Kurt Browning had said earlier that they had a special, skating surprise for the audience... well, his voice came over the loudspeaker to announce "Vancouver's own" Emanuel Sandhu. The lights came up on a very much in his element, confident, and clearly having the time of his life Emanuel Sandhu. However Emanuel may do in competition, it's clear that the guy is born to perform, and absolutely thrives in front of an audience. It's also very clear that the guy can *move*, utilizing his body to the fullest effect, writhing, and bending, and dancing with real conviction and skill. He did take an abrupt fall on some footwork, but moved on from it quickly, commanding the audience and just bringing some real fun and energy into the arena. It was a real treat getting to see him skate.

"If It Wasn't For Your Love" - Jennifer Robinson

Jennifer Robinson continued the white costume, slow song style of Shen & Zhao with her skate to "If It Wasn't For Your Love". This program was just a pretty, flowy skate - a little on the generic female ballad side, but a lovely skate. The program didn't give Jen as much of an opportunity to showcase her playful personality, but she presented a lovely figure on the ice, and it was nice to watch.

"Bolero" - Todd Eldredge

It probably helps that I can't actually remember if I've seen Torvill & Dean's famous "Bolero" skate, but I really really enjoy Todd Eldredge's program to Bolero. From the opening figures moves to the spins at each end of the ice and the jumps punctuating the music, I love how the music and the program just builds and builds in intensity as it progresses. And how the build is a slow build, where you can just feel the energy and intensity gathering underneath Todd's slow, deliberate movements. I think Todd does a fantastic job skating to this program, and it's definitely my favorite of his in a while.

"Like a Prayer" - Joannie Rochette

"Like a Prayer" provides an interesting musical backdrop for Joannie Rochette's program, since it starts off slow and melancholy, but then speeds up with as the song progresses. The version Joannie used seemed to be extra dance mixy in places, building to a quite fast and dancy rhythm, and Joannie changed style right along with the changing music. This was a nice program for her. I think Joannie isn't quite the extroverted entertainer as her Canadian compatriots on this tour, but I can see the potential for it.

"Too-Me Tango" - Kurt Browning, Todd Eldredge, David Pelletier, John Zimmerman, Jennifer Robinson

I found this program charming before in San Jose, but it was even more fun here in Vancouver. For one thing, the skaters seemed to not be taking it that seriously, providing cute mock-serious attitude and playing up the over-dramatic tango from time to time. Jennifer Robinson, for her part, seemed to be getting a real kick out of playing the bossy diva, while kind of winking at the audience under her diva-exterior. The choreography had the guys do stuff like caress their suitcases longingly - I'm not sure if it was intended to be serious but the guys were less than serious doing it. I was cracking up watching John Zimmerman, who seemed to be overplaying things, and Kurt Browning, whose facial expressions are just fun to watch. He was totally playing up the "oh geez" disgust at Jennifer's diva behavior to the audience. And Jennifer throws a good tantrum at the end. It's quite funny.

"When September Ends" - Elvis Stojko

I love the music. I think Elvis' performance to it for the most part was quite dynamic and exciting. I could have *really* done without the pointing. One of my least favorite things about Elvis' exhibition skating in the past has been the segments of choreography where he does nothing but point into a corner until he gets applause, or open his arms to another part of the audience until he gets applause. I had thought he was doing a good job eliminating that from his programs until this one, which was a bit of a disappointment. I was gratified that the audience didn't really play along - it took a while for the applause to come, and it was fairly minimal when it happened. My other problem with the pointing in this particular program is that I didn't feel it fit. "When September Ends" is a fairly melancholy song - what's with the pointing and smiling into the audience? Around the pointing, however, Elvis skated a fast, dynamic, high energy program that was fun to watch.

"The Suite" - Kurt Browning

For the Canadian tour, Kurt Browning took on the role Yuka Sato played in the American tour, skating a brief tribute to the tour-related people who had passed away, and transitioning into the "new additions" to the Stars on Ice family. Unlike with Yuka's tribute, the skating wasn't mixed with the videos - they played the entire memorial video, then Kurt came out to skate, then he spread his arms to indicate the videos, and glided quietly off the ice as the skaters kids were shown on the video. I think this worked better, personally - the attention could be given where it should be given and the tribute still worked, with Kurt acting as linking element between past and present. In fact, now that I think about it, having Kurt skate this was *really* fitting because he really does represent that transition - he was skating with the tour when Sergei, at least, passed away, and he was one of the parents showcased in the skaters' kids video. The one problem with the memorial video is I think most of the audience has no clue who anybody but Sergei is in it. But at least they were respectfully silent during the rest of it. Kurt's skate was beautiful, as well. Wearing a flowy long-sleeved white button shirt with really faint stars on it, Kurt skated a nice, edgy, heartfelt tribute. Beautiful spread eagle, Ina Bauer, spiral... and then the children's video made everyone smile, especially when Aidan Hamilton kissed Keara Hedican.

"Vertigo" - Kyoko Ina & John Zimmerman

After several false starts that recalled several Stars on Ice transitions in the past (Jeff Buttle as the message boy, looking for his tip, John being called on his cell phone by Scott as he and Kyoko prepared to skate to some pretty classical piece), Kyoko and John finally stepped out on the ice to crank the energy in the arena up about 1000 notches. Forget this classical number, Kyoko and John were there to dance and do exciting tricks to the pounding rhythm of "Vertigo" by U2. And with their thrilling fly high and say bye, candle lift, throw twists and jumps, and other fun tricks, they completely grabbed the audience and drew them in. The Canadian audience, for their part, proved what many skaters have said about their ability to appreciate and cheer for non-Canadian skaters, giving Kyoko and John the loudest applause of the evening thus far.

"Higher" - Jeff Buttle

Jeff Buttle's program to "Higher" had no set up, pose, and then music start...instead he stepped out onto the ice moving as "Higher" started up, and then just never stopped. And while "Sing, Sing, Sing" was a fun skate, "Higher" was a beautiful, interpretative skate, with real emotion and angst, that Jeff performed beautifully. James Blunt's voice is not my favorite, but this was a nice blend of skater and song. Jeff is a great show skater, and I hope he continues with Stars on Ice for quite some time yet.

"The Blower's Daughter" - Jamie Sale and David Pelletier

I love, love, LOVE this number, and was thrilled when I found out they were performing it in the CSOI tour. I find the music just really compelling - kind of eerie, kind of romantic, and captivating in its simplicity. And Jamie and David do romantic programs fantastically well - helps that they're in love, but they're also quite good actors on the ice, and can really evoke the emotion of the choreography. Given that the song repeats "Can't take my eyes off of you", it's no surprise that Jamie and David spend about 80% of the program staring into each others' eyes (which, IMO, is no mean feat when they need to be skating and keeping track of what they're doing!). This is just a wonderful program, and I'm happy I got to see it live.

"Brick House" - Kurt Browning

While in the US tour, Scott Hamilton made a big deal about what an honor the last spot in the running order was (which, to me, sounded incredibly rude to the other skaters by basically saying - Jamie & David are *the* stars of the show), here he simply introduced Kurt as his son's "favorite skater". The lights came up on Kurt in his Brickhouse pants and a new white t-shirt, smiling into the audience, and preparing to funk out to the old fan favorite, Brickhouse by the Commodores. This was the program that by far received the most votes in a recent poll of Kurt Browning fans, and it was a program much of the audience immediately recognized and were thrilled to see. And boy does Kurt get into it, reviving both the choreography and the feel of the program and looking like he's having the time of his life out there on the ice. Not only was the footwork and moves spot-on to the music as usual, Kurt's jumps are still big and gorgeous in this program, with wonderful height on his double axels and great triple toes and triple sals. While I do have to confess wishing that Kurt had done something new - and of a different style than Peace Frog - it was a lot of fun getting to see the program that made me a fan live for the first time in 10 years. And boy did Kurt sell it.

"Sing, Sing, Sing" - Cast

I remember being less than impressed with this finale/opening number in San Jose, but there was something about the energy of the cast in this number that really really worked for me in Vancouver. I felt like the skaters actually were exuberantly about to get into a show, I could feel the excitement in the air, and they just seemed to be having so much fun to it. There was one amusing thing, though - after all the jokes in the rehearsal and dress rehearsal number about mishaps and costume issues, Kurt had a costume problem in the finale! He has to do a quick change between BH and being introduced at the beginning of the finale, and didn't seem to get his tie tucked in properly. So during several in betweens, he kept trying to do something with the tie, tucking it into his shirt, etc, before finally ripping it off and throwing it into the on-ice seats and continuing. It only served to drive home the whole "evolution of the show" theme, rather amusingly. This was a fantastic, exuberant end to the show, though, and IMO sent the audience home happy.

All in all, I'd say the Canadian Stars on Ice tour was a success, with a fantastic cast and an improved execution of the theme. I had a lot of fun, and really enjoyed the show.