Stars on Ice Review - San Jose, CA - Jan. 19, 2007
written by Tina
I have mixed feelings about this year's show. If I ignore the theme and just take the show at face value, I found it an entertaining night of skating. Michael Weiss was a good addition to the cast (I have to confess to having a complete lack of reaction to the news that he was joining the cast, and Ice Wars made no difference, but he was quite dynamic live), and brought a new flavor and style to the diverse male cast. I loved having Ilia Kulik as a guest star - he's one of my favorites and he's always enjoyable to watch on the ice. I loved that Katia Gordeeva, since she's doing half the shows (isn't Ilia as well?) is integrated into the group numbers, because she's another one of my favorites and has such a lovely, graceful presence on the ice. I liked that the group numbers all had different themes and weren't variations on the same theme (last year was fun but nothing *really* stood out). The in-between videos were often quite cute and funny (though occasionally very very cheesy).
However, as seems to be typical for me and the themes of the past few Stars on Ice shows, when I do take into account the theme, I have to wonder what the marketing people or creative directors were smoking. The peeks into the backstage lives of the skaters was cute, but "the secret lives of skaters"? Secret identities? "You'll be surprised at what you don't know"? Hardly. Unless the secret is that these skaters have families off the ice and enjoy doing things besides skating (what???), I saw no secrets revealed. But I guess that's a relatively minor point, besides the whole attempt to tie in a secret identity with Superman in the beginning.
My other major complaint (mostly as a photographer, though I found it odd in general) is that the lighting for much of the show is super dim this year. Quite often they had a general dim lighting in the arena with dim spots on the skaters. I mean, you could see the skaters, but they weren't particularly lit. I wondered how they landed the jumps in dim lighting, but I guess since the arena was generally lit instead of relying on spots, they actually could see quite a bit of the ice. At any rate, I did take photos but so far, they've been complete crap, it was so dark. C'est la vie.
At any rate, I may as well start at the beginning and do a rundown of the show (hopefully not too long b/c I have to do this while I'm eating lunch). I'm probably going to leave out most of the video transitions, unfortunately, because I dont' remember well enough what they were about and where they went. I know at various points David asked for advice from the "old marrieds" and Michael Weiss talked about how at least he and Jason got to travel with their spouses, how he and John missed theirs. Then they walked off to play hockey, and we discover the old "ball and chain" attached to David - Jamie's got a grip on a ball attached to a chain attached to David, and gives the camera a big wink.They talked about what they did off the ice (John's always on the cell phone, there's no ping pong table this year, Alexei finds it hard because he's so far from home he can't just go home and visit for a couple days). At one point they're all complaining about various things on tour, and Jamie starts babbling on and on about how she loves it and how great the tour was etc etc (lots of cuts here to imply time passing) and eventually talks about how the tour members were family and would listen to her no matter what, only to discover everyone has left... etc etc.
Opening Number - "Double Exposure" - Cast
The show opened with "credits" on the TV screens, which was a cute touch and a complete 180 from last year, when they didn't announce anyone until the end. In fact, they went beyond putting the cast in the credits, and went through quite a lot of the major crew which is kind of nice, but did go on a tad bit long. With that kind of opening, though, you'd almost expect a movie theme to the show! At any rate, it did get the audience settled down and ready to watch the show.
As for the opening number itself, though, I have to say it was almost completely forgettable. It was set to the soundtrack from Superman, but only two days later, I found that I had completely blanked on the opening number and had absolutely no recollection of what they skated to. Unfortunately, while the program has enlightened me on what they skated to, I still can't remember a thing about the opening number. Getting old...
"Too Darn Hot" - Ilia Kulik
Immediately after the skaters left the ice for the opening, they announced the special guest star, Ilia Kulik (insert requisite whoo! here). Exhibit A of super dim lighting. Lighting aside, however, this was a fun, entertaining program and the song was stuck in my head for days. I have to say, when Ilia lights up and really lets loose a grin on the ice (which he did about halfway through, appropriately when the music livened up), it's really infectious because he looks like he's just beaming out there, having a great time.
"You're Beautiful" - Kyoko Ina & John Zimmerman
One of my favorite things about this year's show is that everyone got to do two solos. I mean, Yuka did one solo solo, and one number with Jason Dungjen, but everyone got two numbers. As a result, Kyoko and John got to show off more than their usual thrilling side in the show this year. "You're Beautiful" was a lovely number, and let Kyoko & John show their softer more interpretive, romantic side.
"Alacran" - Ekaterina Gordeeva
Most skaters. when doing two numbers in a show, will choose to do two numbers that contrast with each other. Katia's two numbers certainly were a contrast. "Alacran" was kinda sexy and kinda saucy. I'm not sure what I thought of the black skirt extension she let loose
at one point to kind of hold onto and flow around herself - she seemed
to have issues with it - but the number itself had a great deal of
personality and was great to watch.
"Are You Gonna Be My Girl" - Steven Cousins
Steven Cousins' voice comes over the PA basically asking if we're going to be his girl, and then the number starts. I have to say - Steven is a tremendously nice guy from everything I've heard and seen. He's awfully cute and has a great grin, and brings a lot of energy to the ice. He's obviously a very willing team player. But after watching him for several years now, I'm starting to find his fast rock numbers to look essentially the same in choreography and attitude. This number was fun, but.... there just wasn't much to it. Sorry Steven!
"At Last" - Jennifer Robinson
This was a nice number for Jennifer Robinson, who skated with grace and a nice amount of emotion. I do have to confess to having a similar issue with Jennifer as Steven - I don't see a great deal of variety in her choreography - but she put a nice performance out there.
"I'm Already There" - Michael Weiss
This came after a transition in which Michael talks about being a father and missing his two kids. The song basically is about someone who's travelling or away but when he thinks of his family he's "already there" - he's reassuring his kids or whoever that he may be gone but he's there with them... This is the type of thing I'm perfectly capable of finding overbearing and cheesy but he somehow pulled it off. He brought a convincing degree of drama and emotion to the program. And, after seeing the same (very talented) skaters on Stars on Ice year after year, it was neat seeing a new choreographic style.
"Ladies in Lavender" - Ekaterina Gordeeva, Jennifer Robinson, Yuka Sato
After a video intro in which Katia, Jen, and Yuka discussed why they started skating (Jen said something about beautiful dresses on the skaters, Katia talked about going on the ice at the age of 4 and loving it, Yuka talked about her parents both being Olympians and not being able to remember a time when she *wasn't* on the ice), Jen brought it all back to the pretty dresses. And this number did have pretty dresses. But more importantly, it had beautiful skating. The number featured the three skaters starting alone in their spots, skating alone and in counterpoint, picking each other up to skate in sync, before moving onto the next... It was a showcase in beautiful edges and graceful skating, and probably one of my favorite group numbers of the night.
"Super Freak" - Jamie Sale & David Pelletier
Time to break up the mood with a HUGE contrast in music - from pretty, ethereal, dimly lit "Ladies in Lavender" to Rick James performing "Super Freak". I'm usually not too concerned about the "family image" of skating or Stars On Ice, but I do have to say that the lyrics of "Super Freak" are quite a bit out there from that "family image"! All the same, this was a really fun number from Jamie and David, who clearly enjoy the heck out of it. I think what I really like about Jamie and David is that they skate in sync fantastically and can really match their styles and mood, but they also individually bring a great deal to their numbers - you can watch either of them during a program and they're both bringing a lot of personality and expression to the table.
"Broken" - Todd Eldredge
I think this was the number in which Todd wears pants of questionable design - or rather an entire questionable costume, since I'm not too fond of the patterned pink over the alternating dark and light brown pants. Despite the costume, however, Todd delivered an emotional and dramatic skate. And never doubt, the guy can spin =).
"Thank You, Stars" - Yuka Sato
A cute, pretty, charming skate from Yuka. I have to confess to liking some of the other stuff I've seen from her this season better (like her first number at Gotta Skate) but Yuka always delivers a wonderfully skated program on the ice. And IMO, she definitely has the best feet of any of the ladies I've seen - not just edges and basic skating, but also great and diverse footwork.
"Legenda" - Alexei Yagudin
Having seen this program at Ice Wars earlier this year, it was interesting to see it from a different angle and higher up (I noticed that a lot of the programs were choreographed to the other side). This is a good program for Alexei. I think he pays a little too much attention to the hat in the beginning, but the dramatic music, the precise footwork, the mixture of intensity and sensuality, work well for him.
"Peace, Love, Skating" - Cast
Now to be honest, I'm not entirely sure how well this number would hold up on rewatching. But the first time through? So very fun. I got a real kick out of the costumes, and John Zimmerman's got that loose, drugged out body language going really well =). I especially loved Yuka's costume - Yuka in pigtails gets me every time, but that big furry orange thing she was wearing worked surprisingly well for her. Some highlights - at one point I think Kyoko Ina was skating with both her former and current partners (unclear because of the wigs whether it was actually Jason Dungjen or not), which was kind of historically interesting. It would have helped if I knew the music better, but overall there seemed to be a fair amount going on, a good amount of humor, and the number was just fun to watch.
I do have to say, though - I think Stars on Ice is starting to repeat itself a bit too much, choreographically... the music and the themes are varying but a lot of the tricks they do often seem variations on the same theme... It cropped up more in the second act, especially with the guys coming on the ice for Jennifer Robinson's number, but there are a few things they seem to do all the time (girl being lifted by all the guys either in a split position or on her back with one leg in the air, flipping over, guys together doing a bunch of tricks)... To me, there's something missing choreographically in the group numbers - emotional connection to the music as opposed to tricks and jokes, maybe? It's still a lot of fun to watch, though..
"The Heist" - Cast
The second act opened with several of the skaters talking about their
favorite TV shows on the video screens. David Pelletier admitted that
he had never seen 24, so the other skaters, after expressing their dismay, promised they'd put on their own version of 24 for David. The video screen then proclaimed that all the following events would be in real time, and the number 24 then appeared on the screen...followed by a 0. And then "seconds." As in 240 seconds, which drew a good laugh from the crowd. The counter then began counting down as the number began. The setting was some sort of fancy party at either a museum or a rich house which was the home of the "most valuable skate in the world," a very glittery silver skate sitting in its own spotlight on a pedestal in the middle of the ice. Todd Eldredge was the butler, with a tray perched on his arm, offering canapes and hors d'ouevres to the guests. The ladies were dressed in poofy gowns, the
guys in militaristic style suits. At first the guests all mingled,
dancing and wandering about the room, when the lights went down. When
the lights came back up, the skaters got to demonstrate their
screaming and loud yelling skills - the skate had been stolen! After
a lot of mutual finger-pointing, David Pelletier the detective came to
the rescue. Armed with a large flashlight, he proceeded to conduct his
investigation on his own style - patting down a man on one side of the
ice in the on-ice seats, and then crossing the ice and having the
ladies pat down another (happy looking) man on the other side. He
then questioned each of the skaters in a different way, pulling the
big skirts off the girls, giving a resounding kiss to Jamie, and looking at Steven's teeth. Eventually, the skaters all left the ice, followed by David, who was presumably rounding them up for questioning elsewhere. Left alone on the ice, Todd revealed the real culprit - the butler did it! Pulling up his pant leg, Todd showed off the glittery skate on his own foot and then ran off laughing.
"Home" - Michael Weiss
Michael Weiss' second number seemed to continue the theme of missing home and family
from the first number, but in a somewhat different musical and
interpretive flavor. He once again escaped schmaltz in his heartfelt
skate. I believe this was also the number in which he did his
freedom blades heel slide (didn't Kurt do something similar with hockey skates in years past?), the "Mike Pike" (aka shoot-the-duck), and backflip. This was an enjoyable skate as well.
"Show Off" - Jennifer Robinson
Jennifer Robinson's program was led into by a video showing Jamie and Kyoko arriving at the ladies' dressing room, and complaining at the facilities, since the dressing room was essentially an industrial closet with pipes running through it, and a guy in the room working on something. They go off to find Jen, only to discover that she's all pampered in a big room with a big lighted mirror, a huge floofy robe, and a vase of roses on the dressing table. They complain that she always gets the good room, while she "innocently" just tries to explain that she just always calls ahead (my theory was that she switched the signs so she'd get the room to herself, but they never went anywhere with that). She then tells them to feel free to use the room, she has to go get ready anyway, and prances off, while Jamie darkly proclaims that Jennifer is starting to really think she's Lola.
The program itself was IMO one of the best and most humorous uses of the video screens in the show. The song is all about how the singer "doesn't want to show off no more" (while of course doing all the stuff she says she doesn't want to
show off), and Jennifer is in character (it's a similar character to
her spoiled Lola diva from the previous year's show) throughout. The
amusing part is that when the chorus with multiple singers begins,
suddenly the video screens pop on to show Jamie, Kyoko, David (I
think) and John (I think) acting as the chorus, "singing" with exaggerated facial expressions and totally goofing off. It's
quite hilarious. Towards the end of the number, Jennifer is joined
on the ice by several of the guys, which is where it started looking
very similar to the suitcases number last year, with the same types
of lifts (Jennifer lifted in a split position by four or five guys,
etc) and flirty moves. Overall, it was a cute, fun number.
"Takes Two to Tango" - Yuka Sato & Jason Dungjen
I like that Stars on Ice gives Yuka Sato the chance show off her
skills both as a singles skater and as a pairs skater. Yuka and Jason
make a great pair who obviously love each other and skate beautifully
together. They may not have the thrilling tricks of Kyoko and John,
or Jamie and David, but Yuka and Jason continue to expand their pairs
repertoire each year. It's nice to see.
"Go the Distance" - Ilia Kulik
While I don't have the Michael Bolton antipathy that many people seem
to have, and while I thought he did a good job at Gotta Skate a couple
years ago, I do have to admit that Bolton's voice is not my favorite
thing, and this song is no exception. However, despite the issue I
have with the vocals, the song is undeniably a stirring, dramatic
piece of music, and Ilia interprets it beautifully. He skates with a
great, sweeping feeling, covering the ice with great drama and
emotion, and landing some beautiful high jumps.
"Swing" - Steven Cousins, Todd Eldredge, David Pelletier, Michael Weiss, Alexei Yagudin, John Zimmerman
At the beginning of this number, David (or was it Steven?) had a
microphone in hand, and asked the other skaters what they would have
wanted to be if they hadn't been skaters. Steven says soccer player
(of course). Michael Weiss goes into a whole "Weiss fades back to pass, he looks for the opening, blah blah
blah..touchdown!! yeah!!" which John Zimmerman immediately teases him for sounding particularly figure skaterish at the end. John (I think) says racecar driver, he likes to go fast. And either Alexei or Todd, I forget which, says he wouldn't want to do anything else, he's always wanted to be a skater, to the groans of the other skaters. Then Steven (or David) proclaims that for today, they want to play for the Oakland A's, and the baseball number begins. I have to say - the music was cute, the number was cute, and the concept *was* different than past years. I also have to say that "Studz" a few years back was an awesome number. At the time it was a new thing to see all the guys together and no girls on the ice for a group number, and that number was the utmost fun. I realize that there are a lot of guys in the cast, and that the cast hasn't changed much. But...I'm getting a little tired of year after year of all guys' numbers with the same guys over and over, doing acrobatic tricks with props. This is a recurring theme my review, but they need to mix it up a little. Try different combinations of skaters. Try a guys' number that's about the skating and not about the props or gimmicks.
"Cincecita" - Ekaterina Gordeeva
I saw Katia do this number on the Celebration on Ice tour last spring, and I have to say, this number is perfect for her. Beautiful dress complimenting a beautiful figure, wonderful lighting, and choreography that really lets Katia showcase her beautiful line and lovely skating. Katia knows how to really get into and express a piece of music, and it's wonderful to watch.
"Remember" - Steven Cousins
Josh Groban's voice is somehow a bit too overwrought for me, but this was a much better program for Steven. I like it when he goes in different directions than the fast, flirt with audience programs he's done on Stars for so many years, and this number was a great example of that. More concentration on the skating and less on the audience, and a nice emotional interpretation of the song. It's no "Belfast Child," but I enjoyed this number quite a lot.
"Piece of My Heart" - Kyoko Ina & John Zimmerman
Funny thing about Kyoko and John - you'd think I'd complain about them doing trick-filled, audience-gasp inducing programs year after year, but I really can't. Why? Because they don't keep relying on the same tricks. Every year they seem to be trying more and more thrilling tricks, whether variations on the old ones (except even more gasp-inducing) or brand new ones. I can see a strong Brasseur & Eisler influence in their skating - they seem to have picked up the hold-Kyoko/Isabelle upside down vertically in front of John/Lloyd by the feet and a hand, and spina round move. "Piece of My Heart" is probably the most thrilling program they've done yet. I could swear Kyoko actually made contact with the ice on the headbanger, the dismounts and transitions were often "how the hell did they do that??" moves. It was really impressive to see, and brought an immediate roaring ovation from the audience after their program.
"Blues for Klook" - Alexei Yagudin
After the show, my boyfriend shook his head when talking about Alexei,
saying that here was a clearly very talented skater who just had crap
for choreography and wasn't skating nearly as well or interestingly as he was c`apable of. I can't say I entirely agree with his assessment in this case - there's something about the rather silly choreography of "Blues for Klook" that I find amusing. Admittedly, I quite like the music, which probably strongly influences my opinion, but I don't think the choreography is complete crap. It's not high art, either, but whatever. I do complain, however, that the program seemed largely choreographed to the other side of the rink. The moves and facial expressions aren't quite as effective from the back...
"One" - Jamie Sale & David Pelletier
Maybe by the end of the Canadian tour I'll grow to get used to this version of the great U2 song, but I still just don't like what Mary J. Blige and Bono did to it. Still, I do enjoy this program. Jamie and David are great performers, and there's something about their circling each other moves (if that makes any sense) that just appeals to me visually. I think this is a pair that is very good at interpreting music and I love the intensity they bring to programs like this. Not quite romantic, not comedic, but more dramatic... Good stuff!
"Better Days" - Todd Eldredge
I have to confess that through a lot of this program I was distracted by thinking "I know this song. What the heck is this song?" Todd is a consistently good performer who is not flashy, but goes out there and puts great work out on the ice. Unfortunately, I have to confess to not remembering much about this program (it has been a week), but I do remember it was a good skate.
Finale - "I Believe I Can Fly" - Cast
I think this finale just brought home to me the discrepancy between the group choreography of the show and the individual choreography. For me, there's an emotional disconnect in the group numbers, a missing sense of the individual. The finale opens with Yuka skating, then being joined by Jason, and basically each skater coming out in turn and taking a turn alone on the ice. I loved this part - the transitions of the skaters coming on and off were great and each bit highlighted that individual skater nicely. When the entire group joined together, it was still a lovely finale, but I found it visually a bit less distinctive. Still, I loved the continuing movement of the finale, which captured that sense of belief in flight, the nonstop motion... It was a nice way to end the show, and left me singing the song all the way to the train station after the show.
Overall, I would agree with those who say that this year's Stars on Ice is one of the better recent tours. The group numbers were fun, the videos in between, while not a motif I think they should repeat again because the novelty will wear off, were cute and humorous, and the individual skating was enjoyable. Quibbles with the show I did have, as you can tell from my review, but on its merits as a standalone show, not taking other years into account, I believe this was a strong show and worth seeing.