by Melanie Hoyt

For the second year in a row, Disson Skating chose the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates, Illinois to host one of its television specials for NBC. On October 25, world-class skaters came together for the Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons Tribute on Ice. Hoffman Estates, one of the northwestern suburbs of Chicago, was a great choice for this show given the popularity of Jersey Boys, which has a permanent production in Chicago.


I’m not sure what the overall breakdown of Frankie Valli fans to Four Seasons fans was, but in the five or six rows behind me, Frankie Valli fans outnumbered the skating fans at least eight to one. This gave the show such a lively dynamic, despite the fact that I was sitting on the end opposite the stage. One woman behind me had a lot of fun exclaiming, “Here it comes!” every time someone rode an outside edge towards an Axel. And they sang along. I love people who aren’t afraid to sing along.


I didn’t have to climb over any security barriers at this event, but I did get shuffled between three different seats, I tripped over one of NBC’s cameras, and Peggy Fleming nearly body-checked me –- all in the fifteen minutes before the show began. I finally got settled in an end seat that gave me a great perspective of the stage, but also meant that I spent the evening shooting directly into bright spotlights. It’s a good thing I like lens flare.


The cast included a lot of the same skaters that I saw last week –- Brian Boitano, Shae-Lynn Bourne, Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon, Yuka Sato, and Michael Weiss. It also included one skater and one dance team that I had never seen before, Caryn Kadavy and Naomi Lang & Peter Tchernyshev.


Seeing Naomi & Peter was especially exciting for me, since I’ve enjoyed their skating for years. I always loved the positions that Naomi would hit on their lifts. Of course, that was before I was a photographer. She still hits gorgeous positions, but in so many of their lifts, they face different directions, which is why I’m choosing to post mainly non-lift photos. You’ll just have to take my word that their lifts are still pretty.


Speaking of ice dancers, the longtime Canadian fan in me was thrilled to see Shae-Lynn Bourne and Dubreuil & Lauzon two weeks in a row. Shae-Lynn’s programs were both so charming, but it made me think that it’s been a while since I’ve seen her do something soft and lyrical. I miss that side of her skating, but she gets bonus points for including a double Salchow in her repertoire. I don’t think I’ve ever been so excited about a double Salchow before! Marie-France & Patrice had a soft and lyrical program, though, as well as one that was more upbeat. Their more romantic program to “Let It Be Me” was so gentle and exquisite, and they performed a variation on their layback lift that they introduced in 2006. And really, three dance acts in the cast was such a treat!


I wonder if Michael Weiss reads IDC. I have never seen him do a show program that didn’t include a back flip, so in my blog about last week’s Hot Ice, Cool Sounds show, I mentioned that. Much to my surprise, his first program from the Frankie Valli show did not have a back flip. He even tried to psyche me out in his second number to “December 1963 (Oh What a Night),” when he left the ice before the song was finished. He couldn’t fool me, though –- I knew he would wait about a minute, and then storm the ice again with a back flip. Which he did –- in a laid out position. So, Michael, if you really are reading this blog, I do think you used your back flip effectively this time around. And thanks for reading


Yuka Sato singled an Axel in one of her programs, so she had to come back out for a retake. During retakes at the Disson shows with live music, they don’t bring the band back out, so she was skating in complete silence. Yep, complete silence. Even though I was only a couple rows from the ice, and the audience was eerily quiet, I still couldn’t hear her blades. I could watch her skate all day.


Brian Boitano was treated as the headliner again, and aside from Frankie Valli, he probably got the biggest applause. So it made sense that he got to skate to the biggest hit, “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You,” but the way the program was staged was so odd. He brought a woman from the on-ice seats out onto the ice and she sat in a folding chair while he skated a program that mostly ignored that someone was sitting on the ice. Toward the end of the program, he went over and slow-danced with her for a few bars, but that was about it. For me, the highlight of the program was Valli begging the audience to sing along to the chorus…something I’d been doing since I saw Jersey Boys a few months ago.


At the end of the show, the girls did a group number to “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Jules, who often occupies the seat next to me at skating events, leaned over to me and said, “I feel really sorry for Yuka and Caryn.” No offense to Yuka and Caryn — they are both lovely skaters –- but it has to be tough fighting for the spotlight with three ice dancers.


The guys answered with their own number, a fun program to “Grease.” I was hoping for bomber jackets and slicked-back hair, but the costume department only provided bowling-style polos. Each guy had a “solo” moment, and when Patrice Lauzon came careening down the ice on a forward outside edge, I swear I thought he was going to do a double Axel, but he crouched down and ended up in a series of Besti squats. Still cool, and less likely to give ice dance fans in the audience a collective heart attack.


Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons came back to the stage after retakes to close the show with a reprise of some of their big hits, including “Sherry” and “Walk Like a Man.” People in the audience were getting up and dancing, and I admit that I was included in the “people” that were dancing! The whole show was just a great atmosphere, and it was accompanied by some fantastic skating.


Afterwards, I introduced myself to Naomi & Peter and told them it was a pleasure seeing them skate in person and having the opportunity to photograph them. They were both really nice, and after a few minutes, someone brought Naomi’s daughter, Lilia, over. She’s already four years old — and a cutie. As soon as she appeared, a lot of the cast started clustering around her, cooing at her and making noises. Lilia appeared to love the attention for a while, but then she started getting tired.


Meanwhile, a horde of girls, probably between the ages of 8 and 11, swarmed around Marie-France with Sharpies and programs. “You have too much energy,” she said while laughing and shaking her head as they thrust their books under her nose. “Are you big figure skating fans?” Marie-France asked. Nope, they shrieked. They could have fooled me!


I also met Landon Beard, who is one of the “new” Four Seasons -– part of a much younger model of the original group. Of all the guys in the group, he seemed the most friendly, signing autographs and making conversation with the VIPs at the reception and hanging out with the skaters.


As the reception was starting to clear out, I got the chance to stop Patrice to tell him how much I enjoyed their “Dance of the Tumblers” program from Hot Ice, Cool Sounds the previous week. He was legitimately shocked that I loved it so much and admitted that he really wasn’t excited about the music when they first heard it. He also said that they hesitated to accept the invitation to skate in the Frankie Valli show, since it’s a lot more difficult for dancers to come up with so many different programs (that only get performed once) than it is for singles skaters. I guess I hadn’t thought about how much more time it takes to achieve the precision necessary for a good dance program. At any rate, I do love watching Marie-France & Patrice, especially in my hometown, so I thank them for finding time to choreograph so many programs for themselves, as well as the work they’re doing for competitive skaters.


All in all, the music and skating combined for an incredible evening, even for the audience members that weren’t really figure skating fans. I certainly hope that Disson brings another show to the Sears Centre next year.