Stars on Ice
Kurt in SOI
Creative Team

Canadian Stars on Ice Review - Toronto & Hamilton, ON - May 1 & 2, 2009

written by Tina

This year, I got the opportunity to see the Canadian Stars on Ice tour two ways. In Toronto, the show was as it was and will be for the rest of Canada - dim arena lighting, white spots, minimal colored lights. In Hamilton, they coughed up the budget for a darkened arena, colored lights, and lights along rinkside for TV - in other words, the Stars on Ice that we are familiar with from the last 20-odd years. It's interesting what a difference it made. In Toronto, there was the sense of wondering when the show was going to start, and then wondering if the show really had started even after the skaters started skating (even though Jeff came out before the start of the show with an attempt to explain that they were going for a more "competitive atmosphere"). It was also unclear when intermission began, with many people walking out before Jennifer Robinson's WorldVision ad. In Hamilton, there was no doubt. The lights went down, the colored lights came on, the skaters appeared on the ice, and the show had started. The lights were still down, the WorldVision ad came on, people sat and watched.

Still, the lights aren't what make the show. They're what make the show look like a show, admittedly. But Stars on Ice is really about the skating, and the skaters, and both were top-notch this year. In fact, the skaters may even have kicked it up a bit in an attempt to make up for the lack of lighting and atmosphere. They threw themselves into their performances and the group numbers fully, for the most part making every effort to connect with the audience and draw them in. Toronto always has difficult hockey ice, and some of the skaters did have bobbles as a result, but they still skated all out.

Opening - Acts of Random Kindness - Cast

The show opened with the skaters all in white, each coming out one by one as they were introduced over the loudspeaker with their credentials. The opening number, in my opinion, wasn't particularly remarkable - or well-lit - and didn't leave much of an impression on me, to be honest. The skaters did their tricks and lifts, skated in groups or singly. It was a fine, but not particularly dynamic way to start the show. If the lack of lighting continues next year, they might want to consider a more dynamic choice of music and choreography to kick things off.

Black Magic Woman - Jessica Dube & Bryce Davison (special guests)

Jeff Buttle grabbed the mic to welcome the special guest stars for this show - Jessica Dube & Bryce Davison. I had never seen Dube & Davison skate live before (and to be honest, not much on TV either since I'm more of a pro skating fan). You can tell that they work with Jamie Sale & David Pelletier (or at least share a choreographer) - they use many of the same signature moves and lifts, and have a similar romantic/dramatic style. I have to admit, though - the similarities to S&P, especially with S&P in the same show, doesn't do them any favors. Bryce Davison emotes effectively and dramatically, but Jessica Dube just doesn't seem to have the same dramatic gene Jamie Sale does. On both nights, they seemed to have sync problems with their side-by-side footwork, which was a little distracting. Overall, however, they are nice skaters and the program was reasonably entertaining.

Tainted Love - Shawn Sawyer

Another skater who I had never seen live was the next to take the ice. He immediately captured my attention and impressed me. Shawn Sawyer is a definite born showman and a charismatic performer who's got a neat bag of tricks up his sleeve on top of his personality and artistry. I was impressed that he seemed to challenge himself with unusual entrances into many of his jumps, like ina bauer's or footwork into jumps. His flexibility is without question both impressive and slightly disturbing - no one should be able to bend back as far as he does while still keeping his blades on the ice. And he fulfilled the requisite role of guy-who-does-backflip as well. Also gotta love his choice of music. Well I do, anyway.

Angel - Jennifer Robinson

Without pause, Jennifer Robinson took over on the ice, moving straight into her program without stopping to set up an opening pose, and her program just never stopped moving from that point. Jennifer's really become a very comfortable show skater, going out of her way to engage with the audience, making eye contact, smiling, and flirting as she moved all over the ice. This program wasn't a flat out dance number, and it wasn't a generic female ballad, and it wasn't a Lola-character number as Jennifer has done in years past, and I quite enjoyed it.

Sasha Cohen took to the ice after Jennifer left, with large gauzy wings attached to her arms, skating a quite captivating and lengthy transition piece that fully utilized the visual effect of flowing wings. She made a beautiful image on the ice as she spun, glided, and spread-eagled around the ice, before making way for the next skaters.

Since I've Been Loving You - Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon

Marie-France and Patrice's program was a quick moving, flowing, romantic number that really played up their strengths as a dramatically romantic pair without falling back too heavily on their signature moves and poses. Even though many of their Stars on Ice programs have been romantic, this one still felt like it was something a bit different and a bit new.

Canned Heat - Jeff Buttle

Jeff Buttle brought the energy in the arena shooting through the roof as soon as he took the ice in his brightly multicolored costume and gigantic grin. I discovered that Jeff is extremely difficult to photograph because he moves so fast and so constantly and is all over the ice all the time. It made for a very dynamic program as Jeff writhed and gyrated to the music, dancing in between a whole array of jumps and quick spins, including a triple axel (I think that was this program and not the other), although that triple axel got downgraded to a double in retakes at Hamilton. Lots of fun, lots of charm, and lots of energy.

Jennifer Robinson, Jamie Sale, Marie-France Dubreuil, and Joannie Rochette then took to the ice in cute outfits and colorful headbands to provide the transition to the next program. The four of them exuded a sense of fun and utter confidence as they danced down the ice. They were eventually joined by a *very* dorky Kurt Browning in huge glasses and socially inept body language. He first chased after them, goofily imitating their moves, and then each girl took a turn with him until Jennifer Robinson stole his glasses, leaving him groping blindly as she strutted off the ice.

I'm Yours - Kurt Browning

Jason Mraz and Kurt Browning are a good combination, in my opinion. The one's got a quicksilver tongue, tripping lightly and speedily through his lyrics and notes, while the other has quicksilver feet that match the style and mood of the music perfectly. Kurt's program was a charming bit of nimble, light-hearted skating which reached out and embraced the audience and put himself out there for them as the people's skater. The choreography at times recalled other past programs, such as an opening light callback to Raggy, in a way that kind of emphasized the people's skater theme. As the program progressed, Kurt shed more layers - a jacket, a vest, a long-sleeved shirt - with the jacket and vest having the phrase I'M YOURS lettered on the inside, which he turned inside out to show the audience. His final short-sleeved shirt said I'M STILL YOURS, to the crowd's cheers and approval.

Objection - Joannie Rochette

Kurt's program was light and effervescent; Joannie's program was sassy and self-assured. Joannie really has blossomed as a show skater from when she first joined Stars on Ice a few years ago. While she's tried sexy dance programs in the past, she's got a self-confidence now in her skating that can't be faked and that comes out in her total commitment to her choreography. Joannie commanded the ice the entire time she was out there, skating a strong program that showed off her technical skills and her performance ability.

Molly - Jamie Sale & David Pelletier

Jamie and David have a polish to their programs that is hard to duplicate. Their attention to detail in body positioning, facial expressions, placement of hands, everything, is apparent, yet their programs flow naturally and beautifully from move to move. Molly was a beautifully romantic, soft number that was lovingly performed, and lovely to watch.

Don't Stop the Music - Sasha Cohen

It's odd, but my association for this music is with Kristi Yamaguchi's cha-cha number from Dancing with the Stars, and as I watched Sasha skate this number, I couldn't help but think that Kristi did it better. Sasha's beautiful, and the program wasn't bad, but she lacked the attack, that spark of sassiness, and the speed that the music would seem to call for. I wouldn't even say she was too refined for this type of program or anything like that, she just seemed to have a bit too much reserve and was holding back a little as she performed it. The program was fine, but there was the potential for more.

Sock Him in the Jaw - Cast

I really enjoyed the group numbers (except the opening) in this year's show, and this was probably my favorite of them all, quite possibly because Kurt Browning was very much front-and-center and featured all the way through. The program felt very spontaneous and loose and free-form, and the skaters seemed to be just having a great deal of fun, goofing off with each other and playing out there on the ice. There was always something going on somewhere on the ice - in fact, it was hard to know where to look because you knew you were always missing something - but that just made it more fun and contributed to the atmosphere of chaotic fun. Kurt was more or less the organizing factor in the program, at times taking the lead and whistling the skaters to order, directing them through a section of choreography, and at other times just joining different groups as they skated down the ice. The number in fact felt so influenced by his personality that it's hard for me to imagine what it was like in the US (since I never saw the US show). It was just a fun, frantic way for the skaters to let their hair down and just entertain out there on the ice.

During the first act, there were a number of video transitions which I haven't put in because I can't remember where they fell during the show. There was one video to "Puttin' it Together" that took a look behind-the-scenes, showing the skaters practicing, getting fitted with costumes, goofing off backstage, learning their choreography, and just generally putting the show together. There were a series of videos with the skaters admonishing the audience "Don't skate" with an amusing array of reasons. It's so cold, 6AM is for sleeping, not practicing, it'll break you... Kurt went into an extended almost incomprehensible babbling rant about the flowers and trees and scenery outside and how there are so many better things in life to do. Marie-France and Joannie even took it upon themselves to tell us in French not to skate. The follow-up video was even cuter, as the skaters started talking about why to skate. David: "Girls skate. I like girls" (with a shrug). Kurt: "David skates. I like David." And then, as David comes in, turns him sideways, and carries him off, with a cheeky grin: "and David likes me." Kurt also just shrugged and said "it's all I know how to do!" at a later point in the video. There was a video to "Bad Day" that was basically a really funny crash-fest - skaters repeatedly falling, hard, as they did jumps, spins, etc, culminating in Jennifer doing a perfect pratfall to the music. The video transitioning into Sasha's number featured Kurt trying to talk to the camera while the other skaters goofed off around him, doing all sorts of wacky things like primping in front of the camera, jumping up on his shoulders and kissing his head, doing body slams behind him, etc etc. Just as the camera clears and he thinks he's finally able to talk, Sasha comes on and pies him - twice. He clears off his eyes, declares "finally!", and goes on to introduce Sasha as a "cutie pie" before surprising her with a pie-faced kiss. The video bits were all well-produced and highly entertaining, and I really hope they make it to the TV broadcast.

Before intermission began, a video ran about World Vision, and then Jennifer Robinson came out with a mic to advocate for World Vision and to let the audience know that there were tables outside for people to donate and sponsor a child.


We've Got It Going On - Kurt Browning, Jeff Buttle, Patrice Lauzon, David Pelletier, Shawn Sawyer

The end of intermission was largely signaled by Kurt, Jeff, Shawn, David, and Patrice taking to the ice in blue sleeveless shirts and black pants, and carrying microphones. Jeff and Kurt largely did the crowd warmup, joking and chatting with the crowd while all five skated around the rink, teasing the audience and goofing off. They finally put the microphones down to break into a full-out group number. All-male group numbers are becoming standard in Stars on Ice and I have to confess that I wasn't overly enthusiastic about yet another one, but for some reason I still really enjoyed this one. I think, again, it was because the five guys just seemed to be having so much fun playing it up and skating with each other that the sense of fun just translated to the audience. The number also featured a few cute bits like David flipping Kurt in a cartwheel, Patrice carrying the very flexible Shawn like an instrument, and David lifting Shawn over his head to spin him around and around. It was just a fun way to kick off the second act.

The video for the next program was kind of an odd ad for Sears or Samsung, it seems. It opened with Jamie Sale lounging around saying something about loving touring because she didn't have to do anything, and then the camera panning out to show a long line of very bored, annoyed looking skaters, holding laundry baskets and waiting to do their laundry (Jamie was lounging on top of the washer and dryer). The camera pans to Sasha who says something perky about Sears or Samsung, and then shows Jeff coolly leaning on another set of appliances and introducing Dube & Davison.

Fix You - Jessica Dube & Bryce Davison

This second number by Dube & Davison evoked the Sale & Pelletier influences even more strongly than the first. It was just the type of romantic soft number that S&P might do and really had many of the same lifts. It was a nice program, soft and romantic and dramatic, but I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't kept thinking "this is so an S&P program".

Stop - Jennifer Robinson

Jennifer immediately signaled a different mood in her second program, maintaining dramatic, serious facial expressions throughout and skating in a more moody, introspective way, rather than the smiley audience-engaging way of her first number. It was a nice change for her. She does characters and charming fun numbers well, but I really enjoyed seeing the more dramatic side, especially because this wasn't "generic female ballad" dramatic, so it felt like more of a change. A nice program overall for Jennifer.

Desire - Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon

If "Since I've Been Loving You" was Dubreuil & Lauzon's romantic number of the evening, "Desire" filled the role of the faster, funky number, and a good job it did filling that role. While D&L did do many of what I consider their more "signature" moves - the "hood ornament" pose, Patrice carrying Marie so her hair brushed the ice, and other familiar lifts and poses - they still managed to make it feel fresh and new and fun.

Take on Me - Shawn Sawyer

I have to confess to being excited when I saw the choice of song for Shawn's second program in my program, and disappointed when I heard the actual version Shawn was using. I suppose it's for the best that he picked a less familiar rendition, since the last thing people need is to be thinking of sketched people running around a comic strip during his program. I didn't connect as much to this program as his first, possibly because the music was so unexpected, but it was still a stellar performance both nights. Shawn has that quality of utterly committing to his choreography that really makes his performances pop, and he doesn't seem to back off too much on the technical elements during a show skate.

Before Shawn left the ice, Jennifer Robinson came on in full glittery showgirl regalia, feather boa and all, to shoo him off the ice and try to grab the spotlight for herself. Before she can say more than a couple words into her mic, though, Marie-France makes her grand entrance, flirting it up with the audience and basically shoving her way in front of Jennifer to grab the spotlight. As the two of them spat on the ice, Sasha Cohen comes out in a short blonde wig and steals the spotlight from both the others. The three sort of push each other around, trying to get at the mic, before basically announcing the next skaters simultaneously.

I Like the Way - Jamie Sale & David Pelletier

Judging from the reaction both nights, this is THE audience favorite program of entire show. I have to confess to not quite feeling the program as much as everyone else seems to, but it is undoubtedly an extremely dynamic and exciting program that keeps the audience on the edge of their seats due to the death-defying acrobatic tricks. Jamie and David do some stuff that definitely make Jamie seem fearless and David incredibly strong, some of which just seem physically improbable. And, as always, their performance quality and choreography is top notch. They got a partial standing ovation both nights.

Jennifer Robinson came out after Jamie and David skated in her simple warmup costume to say that she liked the way Jamie and David moved, and then to announce a moment 21 years in the making... World Silver Medalist Joannie Rochette.

Believe - Joannie Rochette

If "I Like the Way" was the audience favorite program of the evening, "Believe" was the audience feel-good inspirational program of the evening. In it, Joannie confidently and assertively took her place as a Worlds podium finisher, with the program embodying the notion that you can achieve anything you believe. The program was both a bit of a tearjerker and a lot of a triumphant "this is my moment" program that couldn't help but stir the audience's emotions and imagination. The audience enthusiastically cheered their World silver medalist and her journey to the top of the international rankings.

Spirit of Adventure - Kurt Browning

In a complete change of pace, Kurt Browning came out to skate his Japanese drums program. In Toronto (as in the stops earlier in the tour), he wore a black mesh sleeveless shirt with white bandages around his wrists, but in Hamilton (and apparently for the rest of the tour), he went shirtless over simple black pants, and white bands crisscrossed around his wrists. This program clearly showed the influence dance has had on Kurt in the last decade and a half or so. Choreographed by a former dancer with the Alberta Ballet whose work Kurt admired, the program really showcased his precision, unusual body shapes, and his commitment to the music and choreography. I could tell he was really trying to go for something in his interpretation, and as usual for him, he really commits all out to it. The program isn't an instant crowd pleaser, and it's not as mind-blowing as Nyah, but I actually really liked it. I hope that one way or the other this program (and the other!) make it on TV because I think it's a program that I'd like to watch more closely and carefully, and that people should get a chance to see. He did do a retake of a singled axel in Hamilton, so there is a chance it'll make it to the CBC broadcast.

Moonlight Sonata - Sasha Cohen

The last three programs of the evening - the last two in particular - were interesting music choices to me in that they were all three instrumental artistic pieces, rather than crowd-rousing/crowd-pleasing numbers. But these were three programs which were all about the quality of the skating and the wonderful musical interpretation of the skaters, and as such, were a great way to end the evening. Sasha's Moonlight Sonata was a beautiful program that suited her wonderfully. I really enjoyed how the choreography and footwork built as the music did, and just thought it was a lovely program.

Eclogue for Piano and Strings - Jeff Buttle

I have to confess that while I admire programs to classical music, they're usually not my favorites and usually do not draw me in to a great degree. Jeff's program, however, is an exception. As I watched the program on both nights, I found myself almost drawn in in spite of myself - I was just watching to appreciate and found myself just really liking the program more and more as it progressed. I think it may be one of my top favorite programs of the evening. The choreography and skating were beautiful, and it was just a wonderful program that was just a pure exhibition of skating.

Finale - Roll with the Changes - Cast

The finale was a nice, high energy way to end the show. It wasn't particularly exceptional choreographically - each skater got their spotlight moment as the other skaters did something less interesting elsewhere on the ice - but it was nonstop motion, fun music, and mixed things up pretty well so it always felt like there were many things to watch. Not quite as chaotic as the act I closer, but still a dynamic ensemble to end the show with.

The close of the Toronto show was fairly typical, but of course the Hamilton show offered more, since it was the show being taped by CBC for broadcast. It turned out the skaters had more in store than just retakes, though - the Hamilton show was the 200th ever show for the Canadian Stars on Ice tour, so Kurt picked up a mic to commemorate the fact as a cake was wheeled out onto the ice. He said that, as it turned out, the 1st show was also in Hamilton, which brought things full circle quite nicely. Kurt teased everyone saying there wasn't enough cake for everyone so we could just watch them eat it or something like that. He also thanked IMG, the sponsors, and the fans for helping support SOI for so long. They brought someone out to take a photo of the group except by then a bunch of the skaters had dispersed to get ready for their retakes, so Kurt joked that after 200 performances, SOI was down to two skaters and a cake. A number of the skaters regrouped for a photo, though, including Jennifer who dashed in still straightening out her costume and quickly planted herself at the end and posed.

Retakes themselves were the typically fun affair. There were a bunch of retakes - Jeff had to redo jumps in both numbers, and proved himself charming and disarming as he waited for his music to start. At one point, the video intro to his program kept looping over and over, and then when it seemed like they were about to start his music, it looped again, leading him to comically shrug and gesticulate on the ice to indicate his ignorance of what was going on. Shawn Sawyer is also a goof, doing the Macarena and grinning at the audience when his music took a while to start up. Jennifer Robinson totally charms the audience - she messed up her first attempt at the retake, and seemed to appreciate it when the audience all cheered supportively for her, and when she nailed her jump the second time, she first did a body slide, and then went around the ice slapping everyone's hands. Jeff, who had come out for his retake, quickly jumped in on the action, standing in the corner, reaching out to get his hand slapped, and causing the two of them to jump up and down in celebration, very cutely. Sasha was extremely focused when it came to prepping for her retake, practicing the takeoff and landing, and carefuly listening for the correct spot in her music to pick up the program. Kurt's shirtlessness led to some amusing joking during retakes, with Kurt saying some of the skaters had to change costumes and get dressed for their retakes..while some of them had to get more undressed. He also was silly coming out for his retake (he missed the final double axel), hiding behind the curtains and drawing them modestly around himself. At the end, as he skated off the ice, he suddenly clutched his chest and ran off like a girl whose shirt just got torn off, to everyone's immense amusement.

Overall, I have to say that this year's Stars on Ice may be low on the production values - I do wish they'd find a better solution for the lights - but is high on skating quality. The skaters really give every number their all, the choreography is excellent, the music good, and none of the programs feel like throwaways. There's no real coherent theme, and no really memorable, as in the past, group numbers, but what's there is fun, lighthearted, and the skaters throw themselves into it and just seem to be having a blast. The Canadian tour has that feel the US tour used to have of just a bunch of fun personalities and friends who really enjoy each other. It's nice to watch and gives the show a great vibe. I enjoyed the show a great deal, and would definitely recommend it to anyone looking for a fun night out and great skating.