Stars on Ice
Kurt in SOI
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Stars on Ice Review - San Jose, CA - Feb. 18, 2011

Written by Tina

The US Stars on Ice show premiered in Lake Placid last November, but the tour itself didn't really kick off until San Jose last night. Between Lake Placid and San Jose, I think they added a new ensemble, and some of the programs may have changed. For some reason, they didn't have the runlist in the programs this year, but thanks to some really kind fans who managed to get a copy at the end of the show, I've managed to correct some of my errors in this review. I was also toying with a new camera, so my attention was a bit split. As a result, this is more of a Kurt-centric/general impressions review rather than a detailed one.

If you're a Kurt Browning fan, then you're in for a treat, since there's a good amount of Kurt in the show. In fact, it seemed to me like there were two main stars for the show - Evan Lysacek, highlighted for being the Olympic Gold Medalist (he welcomed the crowd at the top of the show), and Kurt Browning, the "true legend" and Scott Hamilton's son's "favorite skater" who served as host and emcee to bridge the current tour to the show's history. He took to the microphone multiple times during the show, and was heavily featured in the act I closing ensemble, as well as a cute group number in the second act.

If you're a fan of old school Stars on Ice, IMO this year's show tried harder to evoke the things people love about Stars on Ice - the ensembles, transitions, skaters' personalities, not to mention the actual past shows themselves. I still don't think the show achieves the heights it reached a decade or so ago, but they make a very credible effort to recapture the magic this year. Instead of cold spot after cold spot, there was effort made to transition between skaters and numbers, whether it was from a short bridge music where both incoming and outgoing skater skated, or other skaters coming on for a bit of an intro, or video introductions that transitioned into a particular skater's name and photo, there was more of a flow that kept things feeling more like a cohesive production. There were many videos shown with clips recapturing the past shows' highlights - from an opening "A Boy and His Dream-->Dream Accomplished" video starting with Scott in 1986 and flipping through year after year of show footage until the present day, to reels of all the pairs/dance teams (with music "stuck like glue"), all the ladies, all the men, past ensembles, skaters' family photos, etc. The Act I closing ensemble was a true long group number in the tradition of past shows, with a thruline plot (even if it's basically just Kurt having a party) and medley of songs where different skaters were highlighted or paired off, and the obligatory sexpot part, where Tanith basically knocks all the boys away while slinking around the ice. The Act II opener tied together with the act I closer, again providing some more coherence to the show. There were also a couple smaller group numbers.

I'll try to do a more chronological rundown of the show, though without a runlist, my memory might be a bit out of order.

The show opened with Evan Lysacek taking the microphone to thank everyone for coming out and welcoming them to the show. This transitioned into the opening number, "I Like It", a fun, high-energy number with the skaters dancing up a storm and seeming to have a great time.

IIRC, this was followed by the "A Boy and his Dream" video. Kurt then came out on the ice with the microphone, and said that Scott Hamilton would be joining us, though not in person. A video image of Scott (looking like he's sitting in a lodge in Lake Placid) came up on the video screens at the four corners of the arena. There was some joking about the signal not quite coming in - the picture started rolling, etc. Kurt and Scott then bantered back and forth (with quite good timing, I wonder how much Kurt's practiced with this video) about how the tour started, 25 years, etc etc. Kurt talked about how Scott's his hero and how he emulated him, though maybe he went too far with the hair... Scott thanked him for adopting his hairstyle, saying that Kurt has extended his career since people see Kurt out on the ice and think it's Scott skating. Kurt tells Scott how he's been watching Scott's "Walk This Way" on YouTube and thinks he has it down, so Scott proposes they "do it together", with Scott miming the moves in place and Kurt doing them down the ice as Scott talks him through it. I have to wonder what those audience members who weren't around or didn't see the tour back then make of all this, but it's cute for those of us who know the program. Finally after some more banter, Kurt basically says that this was also really just a delaying tactic so Michael Weiss has time to change his clothes and get ready for his program, and skates off the ice, introducing him.

Michael's first program was to "Somebody to Love" by Queen, which happens to be a song I quite like, which immediately endeared me to the program. I thought he did quite a nice job interpreting the song, and varying the program and intensity to match the music. I think he may have had two backflips in this program...either that or it was two in his second program.

There was a nice bit of transition between Michael and Joannie Rochette - basically them skating towards each other, around each other, and then Michael going off and Joannie staying on, but I liked that they did that. Joannie then did her first number to "True Colors" by Cindi Lauper. I liked this program quite a bit - Joannie just seems so sweet, and she's got such smooth skating. I thought it was quite a lovely interpretation.

Joannie and Todd Eldredge did a bit of a similar transition, though in this case with Joannie skating around Todd before leaving the ice. I really liked Todd's Frank Sinatra program "That's Life". When I first started watching Todd years ago, I thought he seemed kind of introverted and honestly, a little dull, but it's been fun watching as he's become more and more of an entertainer. I thought "That's Life" suited him really well, and that he interpreted it really expressively and well.

I have very little impression of the music in Katia Gordeeva's programs. I gather her first program was to "Cinema Italiano" by Kate Hudson. I have to admit - I usually love Katia's skating and her programs. I think she often has interesting choreography, not just generic female ballady type choreography. But I wasn't a big fan of either of her programs this year. Felt like a lot of fast skating (And she does skate fast and have beautiful edges) and vamping, but not so much interesting choreography, though Cinema Italiano had more character than the second one. That was a bit disappointing. She's still lovely and brings a lot of joy to the ice.

Katia, Tanith Belbin, and Ben Agosto had a short transition before Tanith and Ben got into their opening poses for their "Use Somebody" (by the Kings of Leon) program. Since I'm not really an eligible skating fan, I'm not as familiar with their styles and not as used to the over-dramatic emoting that eligible ice dancers do. However, I really enjoyed Tanith and Ben. They skated beautifully and emotively, though not excessively so for the Kings of Leon number. This number also utilized a filmy purple scarf in the choreography, which worked well with their interpretation, with the scarf being passed back and forth seamlessly between them, and integrated into the choreography quite nicely. Lovely program.

I was quite confused by the start of the next number, b/c I think they might actually have said "Stars on Ice are proud to present, Olympic Gold Medalist Evan Lysacek!" to start it off, and Evan came out alone initially. I was thinking it was kind of early in the order for their marquee skater to go, and was proved right when Evan was joined on the ice by Katia Gordeeva, Jamie Sale, David Pelletier, and Michael Weiss. This ended up being a pretty, slow group number to "On Golden Pond" by Dave Grusin, with lots of gliding edges, some lifting of Katia by David Pelletier, nice unison skating and drawn out lines. Nothing terribly remarkable, but nice to watch. I think this might have been the number they added since Lake Placid.

I think Kurt got a special video intro highlighting his years of participation in the tour before his first number. "Steppin' Out Of My Mind" is a true Kurt creative piece - he got some friends to re-orchestrate it and alter the lyrics, and had it recorded by his friend Geoffrey Tyler. He also created a voiceover of his "thoughts" during the number that runs over the music as he skates, connected to what's going on on the ice but also just showing how his mind sometimes wanders onto random things while he's skating. Since I saw this program at Celebration on Ice in December, he seems to have re-recorded and rebalanced the voiceover to be clearer and more distinct over the music, with some modifications in what he says and does on the ice as well. I just love this number - I think the beginning is a lot of fun and funny, as Kurt wonders if he left his cell phone in the hotel, reflects on how painful certain moves are, is annoyed by himself for doubling a jump, throwing in a triple to make up for it, worries about upcoming jumps, etc. Then, when he decides to get out of his head and stop worrying about things, I love how the program just picks up momentum and excitement, and how his joy at skating just spills out onto the ice, as his movements become ever more expansive, and his footwork faster and more elaborate. The whole thing just builds together, and then ends on a funny note. Very Kurt, and such a joy to watch.

Sasha Cohen took the ice next for a passionate skate to "Nobody Knows" by Pink. She wore a striking yellow dress and exhibited her flexibility and lovely edges. To me, Sasha is a bit more of an introverted skater on the ice, and doesn't connect with the audience in the way that Katia or Joannie do, but she's compelling to watch.

Jamie Sale & David Pelletier did "Wild Horses" by The Rolling Stones for their first number. The program is kind of quietly romantic - it has kind of a subdued connection to it. The two of them skate together so well - great unison, solid lifts.

After Jamie & David's skate, Todd and Michael came out to give something away to an audience member. Michael had a black and blue Stars on Ice duffel bag slung over his shoulder, and was joking around with Todd about making him guess what he was giving away (like it wasn't completely obvious), finally claiming it was Evan Lysacek's gym bag that he'd snatched from the locker room when Evan wasn't looking. They said they were going to give it away to someone who'd made a lot of noise during the show, and headed right over to the center ice on ice seats (which, since I was sitting right behind there, *wasn't* where all the noise was coming from - they needed to go about 5 girls to their right). They presented the bag to a little girl sitting by her parents, who of course was frozen and couldn't produce a single sound. They tried to get her to scream - nothing. Michael was laughing and saying to Todd that he really could pick them, and Todd was like, yeah, I have amazing ears. I have, like, dog ears to have picked that one out! Then they tried to at least get a hug for Michael from the little girl - again, nothing. Finally they kind of gave up and just put the bag down by her and skated off to much applause. It was rather cute.

As they skated off, they introduced the Olympic Gold Medalist, Evan Lysacek, for his first number. I think his first number was "The Climb" by David Hernandez. I have to say that Evan is quite impressively committed to his choreography, and those long limbs are everywhere. I wasn't quite as into his "The Climb" number though - it felt kind of like the "my Olympic Gold Medal was a mountain to climb but I will keep pushing higher and there are always other mountains" kind of song. The obligatory triumph and striving song to do after a victory? He performed it well, though.

With Evan's first number over, it was time for the big Act I closing number "Knock, Knock!". Kurt was ready with the microphone to take us into it, saying that the best part about Stars on Ice was the group numbers, the opportunity for the skaters to get out there and skate together and show their friendships (and sometimes their tensions), and to really exhibit their personalities. And all you need to get one going (as he skated over to a piano sitting on the ice) is a big prop. He then set the microphone down, raised the piano lid, and started "playing" the piano with expansive arm movements. As he toyed with it, a knock came at the "door" (set up in the tunnel with a frosted glass window so you could see shadows through it). Kurt went over and let in Todd Eldredge, and started to show off his piano "playing" again (I say it in quotes because the piano started playing before he had the chance to quite sit down in front of it and get his fingers on the keys), when another knock came at the door. With that one came the rest of the guys (except Evan), and it was time to get the party started. This act I closer actually reminded me a lot of a number of past Gotta Skates, particularly Gotta Skate III where Kurt structured the whole show like it was a party he was throwing, with various guests taking their turn on the dance floor (and Gotta Skate IV, which also had a 50s medley group number). Kurt was the host of this party too, which was comprised of a medley of 50s songs, with various combinations of skaters going out and dancing it up - the guys, the girls, random pairings of guys and girls, Tanith making the sexbomb appearance, slinking around the ice in a very Shae-Lynn Bourne-esque role, etc. At the end of the number, they're all dancing around when a big knock comes at the door, they all stop and stare at the door, and you see a shadow looming behind it. The video screens say "To be continued..." and the skaters go off the ice as intermission begins (though not until after a video for the Boys and Girls Club of America plays, with all the skaters saying how much they love reading).

Over intermission, the video screens showed a lot of trivia facts and questions about past Stars on Ice tours and skaters.

Act II opened with the skaters resuming their poses, and Evan Lysacek strutting in the door in a leather jacket to keep the party going. After dancing around some more, the skaters finally take their bows, and then Tanith jumps back on the piano and they push it off the ice.

I hadn't noticed that Joannie wasn't on the ice for the "Who's There" part of the ensemble, but she came in the door as the other skaters left, wearing a hot pink and silver outfit and carrying a cane. Her program was to "Show Me How You Burlesque" by Christina Aguilera, and featured similar sassy choreography to her Shakira number from last year. The first part of the program featured her spinning and dancing with the cane, but she threw the cane into the tunnel shortly into the program. Overall, it was a fun, high energy program.

The next number was probably my favorite group number of the evening, and it was overall quite simple. Just three skaters - Kurt Browning, Todd Eldredge, and Sasha Cohen. It was kind of like a silent movie with very pretty whimsical music (from Benny & Joon, which really suited it well). Each played a kind of hobo, with a very distinctive personality. Kurt was purportedly the "lead" hobo, or at least the one who thought himself in charge, telling Todd what to do, trying to initiate things, etc. He was by turns bossy, wondering, outraged, and playful, and far less in control of things than his character would like. Todd was the "follower", but a very playful and mischievous one, copying Kurt's movements even when Kurt doesn't want him to, ducking Kurt's finger gun, looking gleeful at Kurt's irritation, and at the end, one-upping Kurt by snatching the balloon he's about to hand Katia away, and handing it to her himself. Sasha primarily is there to be cutely downcast, playing happily with a balloon while ducking the other hobos' attentions, until Kurt, irritated, pops her balloon. She pulls off her hat in her anger, and Kurt and Todd realize she's a girl, and immediately change their behavior, trying to win her over. She's not having it, though, until Todd comes out with a kite and begins to fly it around the arena (to both her and Kurt's wonder). That was a really lovely section of the number, with the kite gliding around beautifully - a wonderful visual image to go with a particularly dreamy section of the music. Kurt then gets an idea and runs off stage, coming back with a big bunch of balloons, to Sasha's delight. Then, Katia appears on the ice to start her number, and Kurt and Todd both want to get *her* attention, so Kurt detaches a balloon to hand her, before Todd co-opts it and gives it to her himself. The hobos then skate off, and Katia skates wonderingly around with the balloon before finally releasing it to the rafters. The number to me was a bit reminiscent of the 1998-99 clown ensemble, as well as Kurt's Raggy character bits between programs in the 1999-2000 tour, and his number with Tara to Dada Je Suis.

Katia's second solo was to "I Believe in You and Me" by Whitney Houston - kind of more of a generic female ballad kind of song - and I didn't really get into it, even though she did a lovely job with it. She's such a beautiful skater that she's always a joy to watch, but I just wish I liked her numbers better this year.

I *did* very much like Michael Weiss' second number. It opened with a crew member standing on-ice quite near me, playing riffs on a harmonica (though I kind of doubt he actually was playing), while Michael lounged in overalls with a piece of straw in his mouth against the tunnel entrance watching him. Michael says he didn't know the guy could play, but he liked it, and thinks he could do something with it. And off he goes, to skate to "Beatbox Harmonica". I thought this number was a lot of fun - cool harmonica riffs with a definite beat, a kind of hybrid of down home country and more edgy choreography. And the character bit to kick it off was pretty cute.

I think in the second act, most of the transitions were provided by video montages of various themes - all the ladies, all the men, all the pairs/dance teams, etc etc. I don't remember which go where, though, so just assume if I leave out a transition, there was probably a video.

Belbin & Agosto's second number was also strongly character-based, but with quite a different set of characters than Michael's. I didn't catch on at first, but their number was evidently a vampire-themed flamenco. They did quite a good job with the characters - very overdramatic in that ice-dance kind of way, but very much evoking the mesmerized victim, compelling predator dynamic, but also mixing it up when the tables turned and the victim attacked the vampire. I quite enjoyed it, though I did roll my eyes a bit, given the prevalence of vampires in popular culture these days.

While I really liked Todd Eldredge's first number, I found it a lot harder to get into his second number, a Neil Diamond piece. Brian Orser did a really good job with his Neil Diamond number, but in general, I for some reason associate the guy's voice with cheesy retrospective programs. It for some reason generally feels false to me, and I have a really hard time getting into programs like that. So, despite his committed performance, Todd's "I've Been This Way Before" just wasn't my thing.

In a rather big change in character from their number shortly before, Tanith and Ben came out to dance cheesily around before Ben grabbed the microphone to introduce Sasha Cohen in a broad European-esque accent. It was a rather random transition, but kind of cute.

The intro also quite fit, since Sasha's second number was the very Broadway-esque "Mein Herr." I quite enjoyed this one - lots of character that allowed Sasha to really play up the showgirl-esque persona that I feel allows her to connect more with the audience than the more ballady or dancey numbers she does. I thought she pulled it off quite well, and liked that the music had more character to it as well.

I think the only video introduction that Scott did for any skater was the one he recorded for Kurt. He was quite gushy in it, calling Kurt a "true legend" and saying how when Kurt first came to them, he was so enthusiastic and bursting with ideas. He said that over the years, Kurt's harnessed and tapped into that to shape the skater he is today, a true entertainer and Scott's son's "favorite skater". Kurt's second number is one he calls a present to himself - "Downstream" by Supertramp, a band he's always wanted to skate to. He worked with a dancer on this number, and it shows. The program is just beautiful - his body language is fluid, and graceful, with flowing movements over the ice which really feel like an expression of the music. He uses his whole body in his skating - not just the feet and not just flailing his arms around. In fact, his arms probably do the least overall. And he's so consistently expressive - you never see the commitment to the program falter. Even when he took a wonky fall on a 2-axel, he somehow acknowledged the fall in an endearing way while not breaking out of the program's flow. You can just tell he loves the music and enjoys moving to it. It's a totally different program than "Steppin' Out Of My Mind" and at the same time, just as thoroughly a Kurt Browning program. I can't wait to see this one again.

I'm guessing the next bit will change or be absent depending on who's there in future shows, but in San Jose, Kristi Yamaguchi was in the audience, so Kurt breathlessly grabbed the mike to acknowledge her. He went on about what a beautiful woman and wonderful skater she was, how she made us laugh with Doop Doop and told the audience what to do in It's Oh So Quiet, and made us feel other things in other programs I can't remember. He spoke about how she set such high standards for herself and for everyone else, and how when that weird thing happened with the 2-axel in his program, all he could think of was her (getting a laugh from her). My guess is that in future shows, they will do similar tributes to other past cast members in the audience, if there are any. It's quite a nice bit of acknowledgment.

I've seen the next number before, in the Canadian Stars on Ice tour, but I was perfectly happy to see it again. Jamie and David's "Scream" I think is one of the coolest pair programs I've seen in a while. It's also one of the most passionately angry pairs programs I've seen. The tricks are dramatic and scary and show off Jamie's nerves of steel, as is typical of a S&P program, but the choreography and dancing are what really set this one apart for me. The movements are so crisp and precise and in perfect unison, and they move in counterpoint and together to express this wordless pent-up passion. They do an awesome job of embodying the emotion in the song, and it's really cool to watch.

Evan's "El Tango de Roxanne" (to the music from Moulin Rouge) had a somewhat odd intro - he skated precisely and dramatically down the ice, while Katia kind of vaguely danced in the shadows at the other end, and then as he got into his starting position for the number, she kind of skated down the side of the ice and off. I guess she was representing the elusive Roxanne, but it was a bit odd b/c she was *so* not highlighted. Just kind of there. Evan seems to have a flair for the dramatic programs, and he very much carried out the drama of "Roxanne". I was watching and wondering how much his Dancing with the Stars latin dance experience had influenced his movements. The thing about Evan's passionate programs is that they're so controlled and so precise, it's an interesting juxtaposition of control and drama.

Scott's last video introduction led into the finale, with him thanking the audience effusively. He said the show would never had made 25 years without us, and said we were "Simply the Best". And accordingly, the finale was to Tina Turner's "Simply the Best". I think what I really enjoy about the finales is how much fun the skaters look like they're having as they skate together. And the finales give them the opportunity to really mix it up and skate with different people. This finale isn't in the class of the classic SOI finales, IMO, but it's a fun and upbeat way to end the show.

Overall, I really enjoyed the show. I will admit I missed last year's US tour, but I felt like they made a real effort this year to try to bring back things that people love about Stars on Ice - the transitions, ensembles, sense of personality, etc. And it's absolutely awesome having Kurt back on the ice in the US tour - he's really happy he was invited back too!

If you have the chance to see the show, I'd definitely recommend it.