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Canadian Stars on Ice Review - Hamilton & Toronto, ON - May 3 & 4, 2012

Written by Tina

It's always interesting to me to see the changes that the Stars on Ice show makes between the US and Canadian tours. Most years, the whole show remains almost exactly the same, while in others, there are fairly significant changes. Knowing that they only had 3 days to rehearse the US show, and only 10 shows to test it out before audiences, I wanted to see if and how new choreographer Kurt Browning would alter the show for Canada. Especially since almost the entire cast, save Kurt and Joannie Rochette, changed, and since the Canadian tour also only had 3 days to rehearse. The biggest changes were to the "A Life Loved" number, the transitions (much enhanced guys' transitions, and no girls' transitios), and the addition of an all-ladies' group number.

It's also interesting watching the Hamilton show, since that's the one that they tape for TV. One significant difference I noticed between Hamilton and Toronto was that there were always spots on the skaters in Hamilton (except the guys' number), whereas in Toronto, sometimes they'd drop the lights and just let the lighting effects strobe the skaters in shadow on the ice. The latter was quite cool looking (but impossible to shoot as a photographer), the former allowed you to see more of what the skaters were doing. I also noticed that the skaters seemed a lot more relaxed in Toronto than Hamilton.

Act I

Opening - A Suite for Stars - Cast

The opening number of the show features the skaters' recorded dialogue over music, musing over the theme of love and life, and their thoughts on both. Much of this seemed very similar to the US show. Of course, the entire dialogue was re-recorded with the voices of the Canadian cast. References to Toller Cranston and Brian Orser were thrown in - Shawn wasn't sure whether a quote was said by Gandhi or Brian Orser (who was sitting on ice center ice). They removed Ryan Bradley's "I'm the champion!" line (which they could have had Jeremy say since he won US Nationals this year) and instead had Kurt wonder if life was togetherness, why Shawn was by himself over there. Someone says "Shawn's always been an outcast" (or something) and Shawn says "it's ok to be different! Toller Cranston said that!" Cynthia does Sinead's "But what do you think?" (to Shawn, who responds "I don't know!") and her "and that's ok" nose touch, so the charming Scottish accent is replaced by the charming French-Canadian accent. I have to admit, yes the opening does convey the theme and I'm super impressed Geoffrey Tyler basically composed and recorded the song in his home, but even in Canada with some changes it's still super-cheesy.

I'm into Something Good - Kurt Browning

The opening ends with Kurt's voiceover saying "Life is full of possibilities", and transitions straight into his first number, to "I'm into Something Good" by the Fire Apes. The song is upbeat and fun, a slightly edgier modernized version of an older song, and an energetic way to start off the show. Lots of fun, fast footwork, some cool little moves, and just big, big personality inviting the audience to have as much fun as Kurt's having out there on the ice. It's not one of Kurt's more memorable programs, but it is a great way to kick things off.

Tightrope - Ashley Wagner

I believe this program may have been Ashley's exhibition program this season. It's a super-sassy dance-type number, and Ashley exudes attitude when she skates to it. I like how Ashley moves on the ice - it's not all elegant lines and grace (though she is plenty graceful when the choreography calls for it). She'll bend her body in interesting shapes, change directions suddenly in a move, and use her upper body and arms in different ways. Not to mention when she exudes attitude, it's not just her body or her facial expression, she's got intensity glowing from her eyes. It's fun - I like skaters with personalities.

We Speak No Americano - Shawn Sawyer

I would say that Shawn Sawyer was easily the audience favorite of both nights. Well, Shawn and Tessa & Scott, but in the latters' case, they came in with a great deal of good will already, while it seemed to me that Shawn completely captured them in the moment with his performances. The boy loves the audience and loves to perform and it's completely obvious. And he's put together two really good programs. "We Speak No Americano" has him more or less playing a mime who likes to dance. The first time I saw it, I was a bit perturbed because there are more than a few elements of Kurt's Rag-GIDON-Time clown in the program. There are similar moments, like Shawn's legs getting kind of stuck and him being annoyed by that, doing a flip and then ducking down and covering his head and peering up over, doing a kind of fish reeling in thing (though that's Slippery Side Up, not Raggy), etc. But the rest is quite different - Raggy has no control over his limbs while Shawn's mime really likes to dance. The second time I saw it, knowing the Raggy elements were there, I was more able to just enjoy it. It's a super fun program, and the audience ate it up.

Transition - The Four Stops

For the first time, Harry, Barry, Larry, and Les (aka "The Four Stops") are introduced. They've basically taken the concept of the four guys' transitions from the US tour and polished them to comedic art. Jeffrey, Jeremy, and Scott are Harry, Barry, and Larry (I forget which one is which), three very cool suave guys, and Kurt is Les, their hapless cohort. As they step out on the ice, their faces come up on the big screen with names underneath. Kurt's facial expression in that photo is priceless. I think this way of introducing the "Four Stops" is way more effective than in the US - it's big, over the top, and really funny. In the US, it was just four random guys doing their thing with a weird introduction as the "Four Stops" in I think the last transition.

At any rate, this particular transition featured the four guys coming out with flowers on their lapels. Kurt/Les' is HUGE, covering his entire shoulder and overlapping on his face. As the guys are doing their "look at me, I'm so cool" choreography (and sniffing their flowers), Les keeps distractedly batting at his, to the point where he keeps stepping out of line and has to be pulled back by his irritated peers (who quickly plaster a show smile over their irritated faces) before he finally turns and points in the wrong direction during their final flourish towards Cynthia entering the ice. His hasty readjustment in the right direction never fails to make the audience laugh, as does his smitten wave towards Cynthia as the others pull him off the ice.

Let Me Think About It - Cynthia Phaneuf

Cynthia's first number is a bit more of a slinky dance number. It's another upbeat dance-beat kind of song, and she does a nice job skating and moving to it. I hate to admit it, though - I like Cynthia but I honestly can not remember her program a couple days later.

Transition 2 - The Four Stops

After Cynthia leaves the ice, the Four Stops are back, this time sans lapel flowers. Instead, "Les" finds himself at the receiving end of some rather violent choreography courtesy of Jeff's fist. Kurt plays this to the hilt with the pathetic "why? why are you punching me?" looks he gives Jeff, to the gleeful delight on his face when he starts to dodge the punches. The capper is when Jeff's fist finally connects and knocks "Les" to the ice. The other 3 guys are clearly irritated and disconcerted that Les is on the ground, but they grin, raise their arms, and bow one after another. Right on cue, Les, still lying flat on the ground, raises his arms up when it's his turn to bow. The other guys end up having to drag him by the arms off the ice, but he still gamefully grins at the audience as he's getting pulled across the ice. Kurt's expressions and body language are comedy gold, but these transitions are particularly hilarious because Jeremy, Scott, and especially Jeffrey are really funny too in their stifled reactions and simmering exasperation under the big performers' smiles.

Shake It Out - Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje

There is so much drama in ice dance! This was an interesting program musically, though, because it's drama driven forward by a driving beat and an almost triumphant chorus, which allowed Kaitlyn and Andrew to really lay it out there and throw themselves almost unabandonedly into the choreography. And they really do - there's a lot of raw, unbridled power in their movements which is quite fun and compelling to watch, a sense of them not being able to restrain or constrain the emotions that want to come bursting through. I have to confess as a photographer who recently went through my photos of the only other previous program I've seen them do, the Phantom of the Opera, I was struck by how many of the same lifts and moves they did across the programs. But the overall feel of the program was definitely very different.

I Won't Give Up - Jeremy Abbott

From Kaitlyn & Andrew, they then transitioned to "a true artist, Jeremy Abbott" (his voiceover intro). It was really interesting for me to watch Jeremy in this show. He is a beautiful skater with gorgeous quiet edges and an elegance and fluidity of movement. And he kept reminding me of Jeffrey Buttle - kind off a Jeff-lite in build, appearance, and style, but more reserved and serious in demeanour. This is not at all a bad comparison, just one that kept striking me. I really liked this program - thought it had a quiet beauty to it that very slowly built as the song gradually escalated. If I recall correctly, he also had solidly beautiful jumps that just came out of the choreography as well.

Indestructible - Joannie Rochette

That is some cat suit that Joannie wears in this program. Fits her like a glove and leaves absolutely no doubt that here is a very fit woman. I like this program - while one level it's another kind of techno-dancey type song/number, like Cynthia's and Ashley's (which left me feeling like there were too many of that type of song in Act I in Hamilton - felt less like that in Toronto), on another it's a unique take on it. While Ashley's got the burning intensity in her eyes and Cynthia a more flirty take, Joannie's got a bit of a cool remove that quite fits the electronic feel of the music. And the girl can move - with precision, control, and a feel for the music. I also really enjoy the violin/strings part of the song for some reason, and love how Joannie's movement echoes the change in song style.

Hallelujah - Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir

I've seen Tessa and Scott skate a couple times before - most notably in Stars on Ice a couple years ago - but since I don't really follow eligible skating, I haven't seen them skate that much and didn't understand all the rumors and romantic wishes that follow them. Having seen them in this years' show, though, I get it now. These two are really good at evoking that super-romantic vibe. Not the sexy vibe, not flirty or overdramatically passionate, but that romantic so-in-love joy in each others' presence, the little subtle touches as they lean into each other or reach a hand towards the other. Couple that with some really stellar skating (both in their solos and their group numbers) and I can see why the crowd goes wild for them. "Hallelujah" was a great program, with moments of real quiet and space, and then others of greater passion and feeling (but never that raw abandon of Kaitlyn and Andrew's program - it doesn't fit here). Just a lovely, lovely program.

Big Love - Jeffrey Buttle

I really liked this program of Jeffrey Buttle's. I thought, in fact, that it was an absolute highlight of the first act, if not the entire show. I like it when skaters use music that's a bit different and then do really different things with their body shape and movement in the interpretation. I was immediately struck with this program about how Jeff seemed to lead every movement with his chest. It led to a somewhat odd body shape at times - almost exaggeratedly arms back, chest out - but very interesting movement (at least to me). Just as the song does a lot with very simple instruments - it's a man and an acoustic guitar, but the man's voice thrums with passion and the guitar picking is fast and furious - Jeffrey seems to do a lot with that simple concept of chest-led movement. It was a really cool, interesting program and he performed it amazingly.

Rolling in the Deep - Cast

It's hard for me to describe just how much I love this group number, and just why, even after seeing it live five times. It's just a great, great group number. It's a great song and the interpretation more than does it justice. There are so many different elements to it, too. I love how it starts so simply with just the three men (Shawn, Jeremy, and Kurt) and their miked blades. I *love* the comedic bit with Kurt breaking out to do his own footwork down the ice, and being pulled back by the other two. I marvel each night at the perfect comedic timing of his disgusted, resigned look and the planting of his heel in the ice in resignation to match the other two, and how such a simple movement draws such a big laugh from the crowd. And then I marvel at the patterns of sound they are able to create with their blades on the ice, as they do footwork down the ice, and how they transition smoothly from the slightly comedic to the intense and powerful when they throw it back down the ice to the three ladies (Joannie, Ashley, Cynthia). I love the sense of controlled strength the ladies exude as they step down the ice and stride around in a circle inside the men. I enjoy the interplay of the combative choreography which requires such coordination between the partners (which unfortunately went a bit wrong for Cynthia in Toronto when she faceplanted HARD onto her chin during this part when her toepick caught). I love how as the song bursts out with the "We could have had it all", a different group of skaters (the two dance teams) bursts through and up into a lift (and how that motif is repeated later with all the guys and girls doing a lift on that same music build). And how when individual skaters break away to do their solo bits, they do it with such power as they come out from between or among their fellow skaters. Or the sudden stillness and control of the five ladies breaking out in that really slow held glide. I can't possibly describe every dynamic in this program I love, or this paragrah would turn into several pages of description, but it just all comes together so well. And the Canadian cast was amazing - fourth and fifth show on tour after just 3 days of rehearsal and the steps were there. The unity was there. I just absolutely adore this number.

Of course, Hamilton was slightly marred because the lights didn't go down at the dramatic moment they usually do (and I think they should) on the final held pose, while Toronto had that break in the flow from Cynthia's faceplant. But even with those problems, it's just such a compelling number.

Not quite so compelling was Tessa and Scott's incredibly, off-puttingly (not their fault) blatant promotion of Lindt at the end of Act I. They're clearly working from a script and while they try the best, the script is clearly so false ("Chocolate plays a BIG role in our careers. I know when I skate well, I like to reward myself with chocolate. And when I do badly..I like to comfort myself with chocolate"). It got even worse in Toronto, where Tessa even threw in a story about remembering biting into a delicious Lindor truffle right before going on the ice in Vancouver. That was too much for my cynical skepticism. I sat there going "really?? you have got to be kidding me." Don't get me wrong. I love Lindt. I love that they sponsor Stars on Ice, and I would gladly support them by buying their product (b/c it's delicious). But such blatant pandering to the sponsor almost turns me off of them. There has got to be a better way! On a lighter note, they give away two huge baskets of chocolate to someone in the on ice seats (though, "not you, you're Brian Orser", as Scott Moir said in Toronto, since Brian was sitting right at center ice on ice).

And then they do an incredibly awkward transition "we ask you to direct your attention to the screens" to a WorldVision video, where images of floating truffles magically morph into..starving children? And then after *that* video, Jeff Buttle comes out and earnestly and eloquently spins some elaborate metaphor about the support he got from every member of his family (naming them all and their occupations, it felt like) and how we could turn around and support a child through World Vision (or as he says "bring a child home"). They've done these World Vision promos before, and usually they seem genuine and meaningful. But interposing Lindt and World Vision like this, plus the scripts that the skaters were given..the whole thing just felt off and weird. And with that, we were into intermission.

Act II

A Life Loved - Cast

Act II opens quietly - during intermission, a crew member has already pushed an armchair, side-table, and record player on a table out onto the ice. As Act II opens, Kurt comes ambling out in his old man costume, slowly making his way to his chair, settling his sweater on the chair, etc. As people notice that he's there, he picks up a photo album and begins looking through it before setting it back onto the side table and turning to the record player.

Of all the group numbers (aside from the brand new all-ladies number later in the second act), this is the number that's been tweaked the most since the US tour. In my opinion, the changes have been all to the better. What was a cute, sweet little number where the audience may or may not have gotten the premise of an old man reminiscing about his lifelong love has become a beautiful, touching number that actually made me tear up at the end in Hamilton (and I never tear up!).

As Kurt listens to the record he has just placed on the player, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje step out onto the ice, Kaitlyn in a short dark hair bob of a wig. They play the young couple in love, with big exuberant moments, lively dancing, and a lot of joy. As they dance, Kurt as the Old Man watches them, mirroring the dancing movements as he "remembers". As their bit comes to an end with Andrew going down on one knee to propose to Kaitlyn, Kurt also goes down on a knee with the ringbox in his hand, again mirroring the memory.

The "young" couple of Kaitlyn and Andrew transition into the older married couple of Tessa and Scott (as they pass each other coming on/off the ice, Kaitlyn and Tessa sort of spin around each other, as do Andrew and Scott). Tessa is the housewife dusting away, while Scott confidently comes up behind her and familiarly slaps her behind and then invites her out for a walk. The two of them show a more quiet, domestic love, walking hand in hand down the ice (as Kurt mimes holding someone's hand as he watches and remembers) and then taking a few turns together. When Scott goes to lift Kaitlyn up, though, she immediately protests. He looks confused, she indicates her belly with a sweet smile, then takes his hand and puts it on her belly. Realization dawns, he backs up in sudden shock, and then takes his glasses off in joy, hugs her, and they walk arm in arm off the ice. I have to say that this whole pregnancy reveal was MUCH more clear the way Kaitlyn and Scott acted it out than when Katia and Ilia did it.

Unlike in the US, there was no separate Old Man in the middle of the ice and Elderly Man in the couple. Instead, Kurt starts to try to pull his suspender on as he drifts away from his chair, and Joannie comes out as the sweet, slow-moving old woman, sees him struggling, and comes over to help. Their bit as as cute and funny and sweet as in the US, with him tickling her cheek until she agrees to go for a walk with him, then the two of them drawing themselves up and taking a deep breath like they're about to launch into a dance or fast walk, but then letting out the breath and hobbling along. And then Kurt trying to lift Joannie a foot or so off the ice and freezing like his back just seized up entirely. He's got such a great instinct for comedic timing. Then as their segment comes to an end, instead of coughing gently and dying on the ice, Joannie kind of drifts away from Kurt while reaching towards him as he seems to focus in on himself again, like her memory is drifting back in time and he's coming back to the presence.

The biggest change to the number, however, is the ending. In the US, Todd just sort of made clumsy dancing motions while holding the photo of his wife, before sitting and kissing it gently. In Canada, each of the three women representing the wife at different ages come out and stand in a different spot on the ice. As a gentle blue spotlight comes up on each and then fades to the next, she and Kurt do mirroring actions from that particular memory - Kaitlyn holding her arms out in dancing position and turning in her spotlight, as Kurt at center ice mimes dancing in unison with her, then Tessa holding her hand out and miming strolling along as Kurt does the same with his opposite hand at center ice. The part that really got me, though, was Kurt struggling to put his sweater on while Joannie, separated from him by time and memory reaches out from her spotlight like she wants to help him, looking at him anxiously as he struggles alone. It was just so sweet and so highlighted his loneliness as his wife lives only in his memory now. The number ended with Kurt picking up the photo and brushing a simple kiss to it, and the lights going down.

Die Fledermaus Overture (The Bat) - Meryl Davis & Charlie White

When Meryl & Charlie were announced as guest skaters and came out on the ice, the audience went nuts. They didn't disappoint in the least. Performing what I'm pretty sure was their free dance, they fairly flew across the ice. The two of them move so fast and intricately, and yet in perfect unison, it was just brilliant to see. It felt almost like they had springs in their legs, the way they just bounced over the ice, and the energy just poured from their brilliant smiles and movements. I found it really interesting seeing the three dance couples in this show - they were such a contrast of styles and showed how different dance can be. Kaitlyn and Andrew were all unbridled raw passion - sometimes portraying emotion at the expensve of cleanliness of movement but compelling to watch. Tessa and Scott are so very romantic and lovely together, so smooth and in unison. Meryl and Charlie were sheer energy and joy harnessed into technical perfection - somehow the speed and energy of their movements didn't come at the expense of the precision of their steps or unison. So cool to watch.

Sing, Sing, Sing - Jeremy Abbott

I guess when Meryl and Charlie aren't there, this is the first number after the "A Life Loved" number, and it's an apt choice. It's not as jarring a transition as a fast upbeat number would be, and isn't more of the same soft slow melancholy, but instead is a nice coy jazz piece. This was a fun number for Jeremy, and he really engaged with the audience with his eyes and body language, especially in the first part. He's got this knowing grin on his face and this "come have fun with me" look in his eyes as he snaps to the beat and dances around. There's a whole lot of suspender snapping and pulling out in this number, and he just seems to have a lot of fun skating it.

Je 'aime a Mourir - Cynthia Phaneuf

The song for this number confused me, because the beginning sounds like the woman is singing in Spanish, but somewhere in the number it transitions to French. This was a more soft, longing piece, and Cynthia performed it beautifully. Unfortunately, again, I just don't have much memory of it.

Je Suis Malade - Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje

From one (mostly) French song to another, but what a contrast. While Cynthia's number was nice and quietly emotional, Kaitlyn and Andrew's had a rawness and anguish to it that just pours out there on the ice. I believe the two of them worked with actor Geoffrey Tyler on this number and it shows in their commitment to the characters and the emotions they're portraying. It was just a beautiful, heartfelt program, and I enjoyed it a lot.

Alegria - Shawn Sawyer

Time for another Four Stops transition, this one without hapless Les. Scott and Jeremy come out carrying Shawn in his opening pose as Jeff directs them with two big glowy sticks like an airport runway worker. He directs them to the perfect spot, and then starts clearing a spot, scratching away at the ice while the other two look increasingly desperate under the weight they're carrying, finally making urgent noises so Jeff will let them put Shawn down on his elbows and knees on the ice. As they skate away, however, one of Shawn's feet slowly rises into the air, blade first, so Jeff has to rush back, take out a cloth, and polish his blade so everything's perfect, before the three leave the ice. The audience ate all of this up, of course.

Alegria is, in my opinion, a perfect Shawn Sawyer program. It's something Sasha Cohen could pull off with her similar flexibility (except maybe the perfectly controlled extended headstand in the beginning - that's some balance and core strength!) but that IMO Shawn does way better. It's his absolute commitment to performance and his passion for being on the ice, combined with his musicality, flexibility, and body control. The grinning, over the top mugging Shawn of his first number is gone. In his place as the tightly coiled intensely powerful Cirque du Soleil creature. There's a tension to his skating that fits the music perfectly. Even his two backflips in a row feel like an integral part of the choreography rather than a crowd-pleaser. But a crowd-pleaser the program is - people loved it.

Your Song - Ashley Wagner

I kind of felt bad for Ashley having to follow up such a show-stopper of a number as Shawn's. As I said before, I really like Ashley, and I think she's a really good and interesting skater. However, it's almost impossible to come out after such a different and compelling number as "Alegria" and make an impression, especially if you're a skater that many of the casual fans in the audience hadn't heard of. It's too bad, too. Aside from the fact that this version of the song sounded to me like it was performed by Bjork (it was Ellie Goulding), I thought this was a lovely interpretation of the song by Ashley. She's very expressive, and I thought captured the lyrical yearning of the song really well.

Waiting for My Real Life to Begin - Jeremy Abbott, Jeffrey Buttle, Scott Moir, Andrew Poje

I first have to get out of the way how disappointed I am that Kurt took himself out of this number. In the US he was definitely the highlight (him and John Zimmerman). The choreography looked really good on him - he's got that dancer's body and movement, along with that intensity and stillness needed for this number. Plus, I really was hoping that Canadian TV would show this number - with him in it.

I think I'm getting one of my wishes - evidently in Hamilton they had a film crew filming this number - with more lighting - for the TV broadcast in the afternoon before the show started. But no Kurt. Having said that, I do have to begrudgingly admit that the four guys in this number in Canada more than do this number justice, and look amazing doing it. This is such a gorgeously conceived and executed number. Everything, from the spotlights, the simple white tank top costumes, the music, and the movement on the ice just add so much to the feel and visual impact of the number. I love how the spotlights become part of the choreography and aren't merely props or lighting - the way they turn the lights towards each other, on and off, group them together, or separate them on the ice, all contribute heavily to the imagery of the program. And the four guys in Canada - two dancers, Jeffrey Buttle, and Jeremy Abbott - are ideal to perform something like this. I was struck how perfectly in unison they were on certain subtle touches, raising and lowering their arms in the exact same slow time to the music, striking the pose, going into their glides... it made for an even *more* effective performance than in the US, where it was already pretty darn effective. Just awesome.

Formidable - Joannie Rochette

Talk about a change in mood - the next transition featured an absolutely hilarious, full of himself Kurt, complete with flowers, a box of chocolates and a ridiculously cheesy center-parted short Moe-like wig/toupee perched on the top of his head. He comes out with an overblown cocky confidence, preening, flirting with the audience, and smoothing his little bit of hair. When Joannie comes out, he confidently strides towards her with flowers outstretched, only to have her blow by him. He stops, but unlike Ilia in the US, who threw a fit in Russian, muttering a frustrated "Women!" before stomping off the ice, he goes "oh well, her loss. I'm *clearly* too much man for her anyway. Might as well not let this delicious Lindt chocolate go to waste though!" and takes out a piece, eating it with audible "mmmm"'s as he leaves the ice.

Joannie's Formidable by now is a well-honed piece of light-hearted flirting and sunny skating. She skates it with such confidence and ease, flirting with every side of the audience, floating over the ice as she goes. It's interesting, though - her role in the transition as the girl who just blows by the guy fits really well. Even as she flirts with the audience, there's that bit of cool elegance that says you can look but you can't touch which adds another dimension to her performance. I still quite enjoy this number, and how it's not an overt "sit in the audience" kind of flirtation like a lot of other female skaters would do.

Both Sides Now - Jeffrey Buttle

The only skater to skater transition happens here, as Joannie skates to the first strains of Jeffrey's music, and then he comes skating onto the ice and they pass each other. I have to confess that when I hear "Both Sides Now" in a skating context, I immediately picture Jenni Meno and Kristi Yamaguchi skating with Denis Petrov all those years ago. So I have to make that mental transition when watching someone else do that number on the ice. Having said that, though, Jeff makes the transition easy. He makes the number his. He just does lyrical so very very well, with his sweeping edges, his long elegant limbs, and his passion and commitment on the ice. Such a beautiful number.

Good Feeling - Cynthia Phaneuf, Joannie Rochette, Tessa Virtue, Ashley Wagner, Kaitlyn Weaver

There are the makings of a good group number here that really gives the ladies a chance to show their stuff on the ice without any of those pesky guys around. Nothing like the artistic brilliance and concept of "Waiting for My Real Life to Begin" of course, but a fun, entertaining number all the same. And if you watch Tessa Virtue, you really get a sense of what that number could be. Unfortunately, this was by far the most sloppy number of the night, with the girls not really staying in sync, and some of them clearly struggling to remember or keep up with the choreography. You saw a lot of side looks and a few times when one or the other girl would fall behind or clearly forget something. Tessa, and to a lesser extent Kaitlyn and Joannie, have got it down, but the singles' skaters largely are struggling here. Hopefully by the time the tour ends, they will have gotten it together, but for now it's a fun bit of fluff but definitely needs some work.

Feeling Good - Kurt Browning

I guess it's only appropriate that an all girls' number called "Good Feeling" would transition into a guy skating a number called "Feeling Good." They've kept the "Hey" "Hey" "Feeling Good?" "Oh yeah" dialogue, this time with Tessa saying it as the other girls leave the ice and Kurt tossing his hat to her. I really love this number. I'd say it's one of the best programs Kurt has done in years if he hadn't just done "Steppin' Out". And "Downstream". And "I'm Yours"... Actually, I'd say Kurt is firing on all creative cylinders right now. This number is just such a great interpretation - both Adam Lambert's vocal interpretation and Kurt's interpretation of Lambert's version of the song. And it's such a great just "here I am" number for Kurt. He skates it with such utter confidence and aggression, but I love how it falls back into sudden bits of quiet in between more aggressive bits of choreography. And he was really on in both Hamilton and Toronto, landing his jumps cleanly and with ease. It did mean no retakes in Hamilton (and Kurt's so fun in retakes), but I almost didn't mind with such a well done performance. It was nice to see him so comfortable and at ease on the ice. Just love this program.

Ain't No Mountain High Enough - Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir

Wow, does Tessa have some dress in this number. It is *so* sparkly it almost - but not quite - outshines the brightness of her smile and the way she just exudes energy on the ice. While somehow Tessa and Scott still manage to insert some very romantic looks and poses in there, overall this is just a really high energy number with a lot of fast, energetic dancing. I wasn't super fond of the musical transitions in this number - I'm not clear if they put together a medley or if I'm just not familiar enough with the full version of the song but there was something jarring to me about it. But their performance transcended the music, and it was a lot of fun to watch.

Dog Days Are Over - Cast

I've always been impressed by the complexity of this finale in the US, but I feel like the Canadian cast have really gelled with the choreography and shown me what it really can be. Their unison and commitment to the choreography made it really shine. There are a lot of little things I like about this number - I love the skaters skating in a circle doing waltz jumps - there's such an elegance and grace to such high level skaters doing waltz jumps. I love the energy with which Tessa, Scott, and Kurt do footwork out onto the ice to join the rest of the cast, having done their quick change. I love the intricacy of the footwork and arm movements in unison as the entire cast moves down the ice together, and yet how each skater is individually giving it their all and aren't just faceless members of a group. It's such an exuberant, great finale. Such a wonderful way to end the show.

Retakes - Hamilton

Of course, the special bonus about going to the Hamilton show is getting to see a bit of extra skating and personality with retakes. This year, Kurt and Scott Moir came out on the ice with microphones. Kurt saw audience members getting up and leaving and went "ah nuh-nuh-nuh. Where do you think *you're* going?? Clearly you've never been to one of these shows in Hamilton before." He then declared "who here is disappointed that I didn't make any mistakes and don't have to do retakes?" (referencing the fact that fans tell him to make mistakes b/c they like to see retakes) He then went on to explain about ice gremlins and retakes and how he's got Scott out there to train the young one on using the mike, letting Scott make the appeal for people to stay to watch retakes. Kurt talked about how special it was to create the show, and to see his choreography on these kids. Scott's response was meant to be a compliment about how hard it was to keep up with Kurt, but it came out as "keeping up with old Mr. Browning here" and a quick backtrack "I didn't mean *old* Mr. Browning! I meant..uh..Mr. Browning!" (as Kurt cracked up). Between the two of them, they managed to kill enough time for Cynthia to come back out with her costume on. Cynthia, Shawn, and Joannie all had to do retakes, and all three of them struggled a bit the first couple times but all managed to eventually land the jump they were going for. Shawn, of course, played to the audience in his frustration at missing the jump the first couple times. At the end, I think it was Shawn who came out to thank everyone for staying (making a sly reference to people who needed to redo a jump, and some people who clearly just like to get more attention on the ice (ie, himself)). And that was a wrap for Hamilton.

Overall, it was really satisfying to see the Canadian tour this year, and to see how the show that started off so promising and great already in the early cities of the US has really solidified into something special. The group numbers are so well done and interesting, the choreography is wonderful, and the skaters in the Canadian cast were fantastic. I realize I'm entirely biased, but I have to give Kurt a lot of props for his first outing as the show's choreographer and co-director - he did a really incredible job! Definitely one of my favorite Stars on Ice shows in years.