Mel: Back by popular demand, Katie and I are blogging Chicago’s Stars on Ice show! Well, maybe it wasn’t popular demand, but my best friend looks forward to my blogs, at least. Does that count?
Katie: It counts! My parents like to read it, too. So we have three people looking forward to this blog.
Mel: Last year, Katie and I did the show together because she lived in Chicago and so did my parents, making the weekend convenient for both of us. This year, Katie’s in Madison, but I’m back in Chicago now, so I got to play host for Katie and my best friend, Jules, for the weekend. Having the show as a Saturday matinee kind of cut into weekend plans, but I can’t complain too much, because the show was great!
Katie: I drove down from Madison on Friday night, and aside from griping about paying the tolls, the drive was normal. I hadn’t seen Mel since IDC covered the Lake Placid Ice Dancing Championships last August, so coming to Chicago for Stars on Ice was a good excuse to see Mel and spend a weekend talking skating with her and Jules.
Mel: I still think I liked the show a little better last year, but this year is probably in my top three since 2003, when I started attending the tour regularly. As a whole, I thought the theme of “Heart of a Champion” was a bit of a stretch, and by the end of the show, I’d forgotten about the theme completely. It was just kind of a weird dynamic.
Katie: I agree that I liked last year’s show better. I attribute that to my love of “Hard Steel,” which I thought was an innovative concept for a group number. We did get a glimpse of John Zimmerman as Axel Edge at one point during the show. Mel and I both got great pictures of that moment! If I have a complaint about the show in general, it is not on the part of the skaters or the effort they give every night for our enjoyment. It is that Stars on Ice no longer assembles the cast six weeks in advance to put together complex and show-stopping group numbers. My favorite part about Stars on Ice is seeing these champions in an atmosphere where they relate to each other in a way that they are not able to do in amateur skating. Group numbers of the past such as “Fun & Games,” “Rolling Stones,” or “Tunnel Vision” really showed that rapport the cast has with each other. With skaters as talented as these, they deserve material that shows the audience how much they enjoy skating with each other.
Mel: So let’s get to the show, shall we?
Katie: Yes! There are lots of talented skaters to discuss!
Opening – “Acts of Random Kindness”
Mel: Having the skaters introduced while they’re standing on podiums with medals was a nice touch, since it emphasized the importance of the list of accomplishments that were read while each skater or team was acknowledged. Once that part was over, though, I thought that the creativity of the opening really tapered off. It looked like one of the openings that’s thrown together at a Disson show in a couple of hours, which just isn’t what I expect from Stars on Ice. I know they have a lot less rehearsal time than they used to, but this number especially made me miss how things used to be. That makes me sound so old. Oh, and since it’s show lighting, I can handle the guys’ white costumes, but I really didn’t like the white dresses on all of the girls.
Katie: Mel pretty much hit the nail on the head. I’ll just add that at this point in the show I was so excited to start taking pictures that I probably used one whole 2GB memory card on the opening number!
Jennifer Robinson – “Angel”
Mel: This was a great choice to open the show! After the calming effect of the opening number with the classical music and the white costumes, Jen got the energy level up with a fun number to Natasha Bedingfield’s “Angel.” She has a lot of charisma and I think the audiences really warm up to her. I’m not a big fan of the song itself (or most songs that spell things), but she did a good job with it.
Katie: I thought Jen’s costume was great. I know it sounds cheesy, but it was so sparkly! She really did a great job with this number. I think it was the stronger of her two numbers in Chicago.
Sasha Cohen – Wings Transition
Mel: I don’t have something to say about every single transition, but this one…yes. Yes, yes, yes. Stars on Ice team — this was brilliant. The over-the-top costuming with the giant wings is amazing. It highlights everything that is most impressive about Sasha’s skating, and it photographs like a dream. My only gripe is that this could have been an entire program!
Katie: I completely agree with Mel. This was the most innovative part of the show, and Sasha should just skate an entire number to this! To me, Sasha is one of those skaters who could stroke and do spirals/spread eagles for an entire performance and I would still love it.
Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon – “Since I’ve Been Loving You”
Mel: From a great transition comes a great program. Another yes, yes, yes. First, let’s be completely superficial — her dress is fabulous. I was a little hesitant about it when I first saw a few photos, but seeing it in motion really adds another layer to it. And the color is perfect for the program and looks great on her. Then Patrice in black, which is always a good choice, but it’s done without being boring. Now that the costumes are covered…what a program. There’s this lift in it that I just can’t figure out–he’s holding her by one arm, completely extended above his head, and he just turns her completely around slowly…still with just the one arm, and then of course there are about eight more changes before he sets her down. I don’t get how it’s even possible, and I love that they are still coming up with new lifts. Everything about this program is done right — the costuming, the song choice, the gentle intimacy of it, the softness…I could watch this a hundred more times without getting tired of it.
Katie: Mel, you said everything I was going to say! I also loved this program. Out of their two programs, this one was my favorite. The dress is absolutely gorgeous, and it shoots very well.
Yuka Sato – “1234”
Mel: There’s a cute transition into this. Yuka is talking to herself, via the video screen at the end of the ice, telling herself to let her hair down, have fun, and not just skate to pretty music in pretty dresses. It’s cute, and I like that they play off of the stereotype that she has sometimes. So off comes the pretty dress, and she does a charming number to the popular Feist song…that I kind of love. Very cute, very photogenic, and she did the most gorgeous triple loop right in front of us. Loved it.
Katie: Great number for Yuka. As Mel said, she did a triple loop right in front of us –- the only attempted triple loop of the night. As someone who just learned how to do a single loop, I have a great appreciation for Yuka’s triple She is so adorably cute in this number. It put a smile on my face.
Todd Eldredge – “I’m Gonna Find Another You”
Mel: Speaking of songs I love, can someone please skate to John Mayer on every tour from now until the end of time? Thanks. I’m glad it was Todd who skated to this song, because I was pleasantly surprised by how well it suited him. The melodic phrases worked well with his skating, and I liked seeing this relaxed, slightly bluesy side of Todd.
Katie: Perfect number for Todd. I noticed that he was slower than usual, but it made sense once we found out he was getting over the flu. I don’t know how these skaters survive this tour without collapsing. Kudos to Todd for giving it his all even though he was under the weather!
The Return of Axel Edge!
Mel: Yes! John Zimmerman was back on the ice for a short transition as Axel Edge! Bad news–Hard Steele broke up, but at least John is still rocking the wig and the red guitar. I thought it was a cute idea to bring back some aspects of last year’s tours — a nice treat for the SOI faithful!
Katie: They teased us with Axel Edge and then only had him out there for less than a minute? Tragic. I wanted more John as Axel Edge! Maybe we can convince the Canadian leg of SOI to give John a bigger transition as Axel. One can dream!
Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao – “Ramalama (Bang Bang)”
Mel: Okay, I love this song. I love that Shen & Zhao tried to do something different. I really liked the program, too…I just had a hard time buying it, to be honest. I’m not sure that ripping off a Wade Robson creation from So You Think You Can Dance was the right type of “different” for Shen & Zhao. That aside, though, this was extremely well-skated, from a fantastic delayed double twist to a huge throw triple loop (marvelously photographed by Katie), and great unison on all of the dancey bits. I don’t want to take anything away from their performance, because they did a wonderful job.
Katie: I thought it was a great departure for them, but I’m not sure if the audience bought it. I know we were cheering for them, though! I admire Shen & Zhao so much for their versatility in expression. When they first burst onto the scene in the late ’90s, I would never have guessed they could be so expressive. They have really evolved in a great way.
John Zimmerman, Michael Weiss, and Yuka Sato – “The Dance”
Mel: This number didn’t do a lot for me. It felt too much like “Both Sides Now,” from the 2001 tour (I think!), and I didn’t like the song choice. Plus, Mike did great with the choreography, but next to John, it was easy to tell who was a pairs skater and who wasn’t. Nothing was terrible about it, by any means, but the program didn’t resonate with me like a lot of the others did.
Katie: Nothing against Mike, but I think a more interesting transition would have been just John and Yuka showing off their pairs skills. Actually, one thing that was missing from the show was having John show off his pair elements more. I think a great concept for a John-centric number would have put him with some of the ladies and had him just showing off his pairs skills.
Ilia Kulik – “Sixteen Tons”
Mel: I’d heard such good reviews for this program that I think I came into it with a little too much expectation. Ilia skated it really well, but I wasn’t as blown away as I was expecting to be. I’m glad he’s back on the full tour, though, and his flying camel/aerial move is really awesome!
Katie: I am never disappointed by Ilia’s skating, and he didn’t let me down here. He has to be the lightest jumper in the world. Every year he comes up with something unique, and I admire him so much for that. It is easy to pick a style and music that suits you, but Ilia is always going in new directions and more often than not, it turns into something really special.
Sasha Cohen – “Don’t Stop the Music”
Mel: Fun number, fun music, great way to end the solos in the first act. I did want to see Sasha looking a little more natural in the program — she looked a little stiff and choreographed in some of the dance moves. I didn’t mind, though, I was just grooving in my seat, taking the photos and singing along. I’m sure the people in front of me were thrilled!
Katie: I thought the choreography was pretty obvious and not as subtle as some of the stuff we are used to seeing from Sasha. It was still a good number and Sasha had some pretty amazing moves that showed off her flexibility. I agree that she didn’t seem as comfortable with this program as she normally is, but it was nice to see a different kind of program from Sasha.
Cast – “Sock Him in the Jaw”
Mel: Whee! I was skeptical about this after seeing it on TV, but it’s so much better live. The concept is still a little random, but I love a good concept program, so I’ll take it! The costumes are adorable (although I bet Katie is going to gripe a bit about the hats), the red accents pop in photos, and it was really well put together. It’s numbers like this that have made Stars on Ice my favorite skating tour. Oh, and the whole cast was great in this, but I thought that Ilia really stole this number. I loved seeing him play off the rest of the cast and having a great time with this.
Katie: Yes, I am going to gripe about the hats! Hats are extremely hard to photograph and hide everyone’s eyes. Skaters should never wear hats (or white!). The best part about this number was Ilia -– he was great!
Intermission! After getting heads in the bottoms of our shots for the first half of the show, Katie, Jules, and I migrated backwards a few rows to some empty seats. As we were getting settled, an usher asked us for our tickets. She’s probably not used to people seat-hopping for seats that are further back, so she seemed a little confused, but let us stay. This is a good thing, because I was two minutes away from running out to the car, getting my flat iron, and attacking some big hair in front of me.
The Guys – “We’ve Got It Going On”
Mel: I love it when Stars on Ice plays unashamedly to its mostly-female audience and parades the guys through a gratuitous group number involving muscle shirts, leather pants, and fist pumps. Most of this program was a lot of posing and clapping, but there were some cool highlights — Patrice dance lifting Todd, Mike’s obligatory back flip, and John lifting Mike onto his head and doing a no-hands spin. And for how it compares with other all-male numbers from years past: not quite as awesome as “Studz,” but way better than the baseball one.
Katie: These numbers with the guys make me (and a lot of other women in the audience) very happy. I might have taken more pictures during this number than during any other number –- and I took a LOT of pictures this year! Mel mentioned the highlights. I thought John and Mike’s lift was the coolest part of the number. I can’t believe how strong these guys are!
Xue Shen & Hongbo Zhao – “Io Ci Sera”
Mel: Aaaand…about face. After the guys got the crowd pumped back up, it was time to settle back and enjoy Shen & Zhao’s powerful, flowing program to an Andrea Bocelli song. I love Andrea Bocelli, and I love Shen & Zhao skating to Andrea Bocelli. Yeah, this was a little predictable for them, but there’s a reason they skate programs like this often — they really do this style well. I enjoyed every part of it, aside from his shirt.
Katie: Ahhhh…vintage Shen & Zhao. Beautiful everything. They floated across the ice during this number. They always perform with so much emotion. Their elements included a high double twist and either a throw triple loop or Salchow -– I can’t recall which one now.
Jennifer Robinson – “Stop”
Mel: I have to admit that when I first saw on a song list somewhere that Jen was skating to “Stop,” I thought it was going to be the Spice Girls. It’s not, but this song probably suits Jen’s skating better than the Spice Girls would, so this is a good thing. I actually really like this number for Jen, almost as much as I LOVE the yellow dress on her. Why don’t more people skate in yellow? Anyway, it’s a nice, relaxed piece for her, but I don’t mean that it’s boring. Just overall, a solid choice, and a good contrast to the next number.
Katie: The dress! The dress! It is gorgeous. Like Mel said, this number really suited Jen and I think the crowd really enjoyed it. I had to change memory cards during the middle of this number, so I missed some of it and that is why I can’t recall exactly what elements she did.
Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon – “Desire”
Mel: I know I gushed about their first program, too, but this is my favorite number in the whole show. After seeing it live and going through my photos, I’m totally positive. Last year, they had a fast number and a slow number, too, but their fast number was a little cheesy. It was fun, just cheesy. This year, their fast number is all fun, no cheese, and a lot of insanity. It’s so fast, so well-choreographed, and as usual, full of insane lifts that go on for days. Let’s see if I can even describe the first one: first, he’s on one knee and he presses her up into a “candlestick”-type position, then he gets up as he lowers her, she wraps her legs around his waist and it turns into a super-fast, no-handed rotational lift, then as he switches to a curve, he flings her all the way around him until she’s back in front of him again, and then she cartwheels out of it. It makes me tired just thinking about it, and that’s only the first one. They never drop the energy in this program, and I thought it was one of the best performances of the show. And that’s not just because I have ice dance bias.
Katie: Mel said everything again, so I’ll just say I really liked the dancing in the middle of number. Patrice does some great chest pumps.
Evan Lysacek – “Bolero”
Mel: It’s always fun to see a skater in their hometown, and although Evan hasn’t lived in Chicago in a while, it’s clear he still has a lot of support here. Skating his short program over and over on tour may really help him stand up to the pressure at Worlds, but I’m not a big fan of the program itself, so I wish he’d done something else, even though that’s a tad selfish. He doesn’t attempt a triple Axel in the spotlights, so instead, his jumps are: triple Lutz, triple flip (which he doubled), and triple toe. Overall, it was cool to see him in Chicago, but it’s too bad that he couldn’t really let loose and have fun with it, since he has to keep his focus and training up for Worlds.
Katie: Evan got a huge reception from the crowd, not surprising since Chicago is his hometown. I’ve seen Evan a few times in Chicago and you can always tell how proud the audience is to call him their own. As far as the program goes, the highlight was the straightline footwork. As always, Evan sells this better than anything else in the program. He seemed in good shape and overall ready for Worlds.
Transition — John and the Girls
This extended transition, set to “Mercy” by Duffy, is so cute! This was definitely one of the highlights of the second act. Yuka, Marie-France, Xue, and Jen are dressed in colorful ’60s-inspired costumes, and they have a bunch of cute dance moves before John comes out and does a twirl or something with each of them. Adorable transition that really suits the cast members.
John Zimmerman – “I’m Gonna Crawl”
Mel: I didn’t realize how entertaining John would be as a solo skater, but I’m glad that Stars on Ice took a chance on him! He’s such a great performer, and he brings that to the ice, whether or not he’s with a partner. I was a little worried that the number would fall flat after the first two minutes, since he doesn’t have a huge variety of skills without a partner, but he surprised me. This was another perfect music choice.
Katie: Technically, John doesn’t have the jump arsenal that the other guys do. However, what he lacks in jumps, he makes up for in power and style. He has a command over the ice that I didn’t expect from him as a solo skater. I’m excited to see what John has to offer in the future on his own.
Yuka Sato – “The Long and Winding Road”
Mel: I was so excited for this program, because it’s one of my favorite songs by The Beatles, but I ended up liking her first number more than this one. I guess it’s because it was so refreshing to see her do something light, and maybe because they had already poked fun at the “pretty dress and song” stereotype. It was a very pretty number, and full of all of Yuka’s most lovely qualities, but I still liked lighthearted Yuka more. This time, at least.
Katie: I liked her first number better as well, but this number was still such a great exhibit of her wonderful skating. Her jumps are still so light and effortless. In fact, her whole skating is effortless. When I watch Yuka skate a number like this, I am reminded why I love skating. The number was calming and beautiful and it suited Yuka perfectly.
Michael Weiss – “You Shook Me All Night Long”
Mel: Later, we found out that Mike is battling a groin injury, which is why he didn’t skate his first program, but I couldn’t see any sign of injury in this program. After some slower tempos, this was a great change of pace and a ton of fun. Mike is such a stellar entertainer, and I really enjoyed this program.
Katie: And let me just say that I “called it” that Mike was either sick or injured. After his second triple toe loop, I turned to Mel and said, “He’s only doing triple toes, he must be sick or injured.” Mike has really come into his own on Stars on Ice, and I enjoy his programs every year.
Todd Eldredge – “Is Nothing Sacred”
Mel: Meat Loaf, really? Really, Todd? I don’t know, I just have a hard time taking Meat Loaf seriously. This was quintessential “Todd-skating,” but the poor guy is just getting over the flu and he actually looked like he’d lost some weight and was looking a bit weak by the end of the show. I’m sure this number has more of an impact when he’s healthy! For this show, though, I was just relieved to see him get through it as well as he did.
Katie: With this kind of music I was expecting more powerful skating from Todd, but I’ll forgive him since he was sick. He still had some wonderful moments, like the split jumps timed perfectly with the music. After years of trying, I finally captured the split jump with my camera! Score!
Sasha Cohen – “Moonlight Sonata”
Mel: One of the big topics right now is whether or not Sasha is really serious about wanting to come back next year, and while she might be thinking about it, this number made it plain to me that she has a lot of ground to cover before she’s ready for a comeback. It’s a nice program, but she was lacking the power and speed that a competitive skater has. The program worked well for her, though, particularly toward the end of the show. It seemed like she really enjoyed skating to it, but I have to admit that out of all of the time she spent on the ice, I think I enjoyed her most in the wings transition.
Katie: If Sasha is planning a comeback with this number, she will have to skate the last section much faster. The third movement of Moonlight Sonata is not meant to be skated slowly. She did look very solid with both the triple toe and triple Salchow, but those were the only triples she attempted. This number suited her well and the dark blue costume was gorgeous.
Ilia Kulik – “Song for the King”
Mel: This was the third lyrical program in a row, and if it hadn’t been so well done, I think I would have been yawning and waiting for the finale to start. However, it was exceptionally well-done, so I really enjoyed it. Ilia has a solid command of the ice, and this piece of music is beautifully composed and beautifully chosen for him. One of the highlights of the second act, I think, and a great closer.
Katie: This may have been my favorite program of the night. Ilia is one of the most expressive performers out there today and this number beautifully showcased his artistic talents. Technically, he is superb. He does things on skates that I can’t even dream of doing in regular shoes. As the only Olympic Gold Medalist in the show, Ilia rightly closed the show with this beautiful number.
Finale – “Roll With the Changes”
Mel: Well, the finale is 100% cheese, but after so many serious programs in a row, it was refreshing, and I didn’t mind the cheese so much. Sure, the repetition in the choreography started to get to me, but it was all in good fun, and in typical Stars on Ice fashion, there were so many things to watch at once that I never got bored with it. I kind of wish that they’d had a finale that somehow tied the theme back into the show, though, to bring everything full-circle.
Katie: Mel is right, there was so much going on! I hardly knew where to put my camera.
Mel: Overall, I had so much fun watching the show. It has so many lighthearted moments, but there’s a good balance between the “fun” programs and the “serious” programs, and some of the group work in the transitions and the act one closer, for example, really highlight what is so great about Stars on Ice. I always hate to see a show end, but I can handle it a bit better with Stars on Ice, since I’ll try to see at least one more show on the U.S. tour!
Mel: After the show, we had the chance to catch up with Marie-France & Patrice, who gave us a glimpse of what life on the road is like. They had trouble remembering where they were the night before, where they were heading that night, and they admitted that although they’d been to Chicago a few times for shows now, they had still never seen the actual city. They didn’t have much time before they had to get on the bus, but it was enough time for a quick chat and for me to trip over a chair behind me and nearly take out a woman standing there. I’m always available to provide some good old slapstick-style comedic relief.
Katie: Mel almost tripping over the chair was the highlight of the meet and greet! Just kidding. The best part was meeting Marie-France & Patrice. I’m always amazed at how small some of the female skaters are in person. I felt like a giant standing next to Marie-France!
Mel: It seemed like most of the people at the post-show event were guests of Evan, and he was the first cast member to arrive, taking time to sign autographs and pose for photos with everyone. Again, it was a nice hometown moment.
Katie: As we were leaving the meet and greet I talked to John Zimmerman, who was the last of the cast members to leave. I made sure to tell him hello from our friend and fellow photographer/journalist Michelle Wojdyla. John he gave the best shout-out of the night, to Michelle’s “monster cat!” Mel and I thought for sure this had to be Ringo (see picture), but later learned it was a cat Michelle had a few years back named Beast. The stories Michelle told of her cat must have made an impression on John! Once John left, we made our way outside. We saw the tour buses go by as we were exiting the building, so John wasn’t kidding when he said they really had to leave!
Mel: Overall, it was another great show! I’m curious to see what Stars on Ice will do next year, with the post-season schedule and the merger with Champions on Ice really taking effect. I wonder if this year isn’t the last traditional SOI tour, so I hope everyone has a chance to get out and see it!
Katie: I really hope that SOI doesn’t change too much next year. But, if the merger means longer rehearsals and more intricate group numbers, then I’m all for it! Overall, great show this year and one that everyone should see!