Sunday, April 3, 2011
Stars On Ice: The 25th Anniversary Tour (A Review)
Last night, I attended Stars on Ice for the first time in many years. To put it in perspective, the last time I saw the tour, I had to go to Trenton because the Izod Center was contracted solely for Champions on Ice. I was an avid SOI fan during the Bezic/Yamaguchi years, but I lost my support when Sarah Hughes couldn't even manage to do doubles as a headliner (may the 2004-2005 season rest in peace.)
Sadly, five minutes before the show, the Izod Center looked like this.
Frau Muller came from Philadelphia to see the show with me. Together, we likely paid Todd's appearance fee (or at least what he deserved.) Now, I am aware that things have changed quite a bit in a decade. Gone are the ticket sales and the production budget (and the rehearsal time), as well as the sexual overtones courtesy of the fabulous (and hormonally charged) Sandra Bezic. Mind you, I dig Renee Roca. That feisty Cubana and I have a love affair that dates back to the Jill Trenary Yanni program.
Still, I was apprehensive about seeing this year's production. Last year, the tour was slapped together in alarming fashion. This year's TV broadcast was of the Lake Placid show and the cast didn't even manage to get their crossovers and three-turns in unison during the group number. They've been touring for a few months, so my expectation was that the cast likely improved. Then, someone who saw the show in Long Island on Friday emailed me saying that Sasha Cohen attempted three jumps and fell on two of them. So, we thought it would be fun to make a game of it, who would successfully complete more IJS jump content: Katia or Sasha? (Math geeks, this one is for you.)
Once Frau and I got to the arena, we noticed that the 'so thin she's translucent' Vera Wang was sitting directly across the aisle from us. That alone would prove to be worth the price of admission. Mind you, we already knew that Vera was a big Evan fan to point of verging on cougar status. What we didn't know is that Vera is such a self-important individual that she requires seven assistants to gather around her at a skating event at all time. There was some fierce looking fashionistas who were shielding us from the lady who stuck Nancy Kerrigan in a wedding dress and draped Mr. Lysacek in phallic symbols in Vancouver. They had reason to shield her, as Vera was slumming it and drinking beer from a plastic cup the entire night. Given that she is former skater and appears to have kept up those eating habits, it likely doesn't take her much to get a nice buzz going. By that criteria, it is worth noting that Vera Wang appeared to be enjoying herself immensely throughout the night. More on that later.
I don't know why, but Renee Roca thought that it was a good idea for the cast to open the show with Enrique Iglesias' I Like It. Given Sasha Cohen's program to Please Don't Stop The Music performed by someone other than Rihanna, Frau Muller was expecting Scott Hamilton and Kurt Browning to be providing all of the vocals for the evening. If you recall, I Like It was catchy for a full five minutes. Four of those minutes can be credited to the cast of Jersey Shore. The cast of SOI keeps that spirit alive with lots of arm choreography and blatant fist pumping. When the show opens with Todd and Michael trying to keep up with the fist pumping, you begin to think that Smucker's must REALLY love them to keep them on the tour. (More on that later too.) It was a bit sad to see these skaters come out with their game faces on to an arena that was perhaps 1/7 full at best. There were a few stragglers coming in, but not enough. The cast seemed to be enjoying themselves, but they also seemed to be giggling quite a bit. Perhaps they were laughing at their own bad performance and out-of-sync steps?
After the opening number, Kurt spoke to a videotape of Scott Hamilton pretending to be live. As usual, Kurt kissed Scott's ass, called him a Skate God, and even pretended that Scott was a far superior skater than himself. He deserves a Tony AND an Emmy for delivering that in a believable manner. Scott mentioned the harsh economic times and thanked everyone for coming. Back in the day, the $90 I paid for my ninth-row seat would've gotten me in the upper level. Now they thank us for coming! Kurt even did Scott's old Walk This Way footwork and outdid the supposed ''Skate God." Then, Kurt and Scott reminded us again and again that it was the 25th anniversary of the tour. The tour really has come full circle: No one came during the first year and neither does anyone now! They began mentioning 25 years so many times that I started to wonder if the tour will ever make it to its 30th anniversary. Kurt then went through the skaters who have entertained us over the years. Of course, he brought up Katarina Witt. See, one amazing thing about Kurt Browning and Kristi Yamaguchi is that they've known Katarina for the entire time I've been on this planet and even friends with her, yet they still manage to mispronounce her last name after those illustrious 25 years. Nails on a chalkboard.
Oh yes, Kurt and Scott made some bald jokes and some unfortunately true jokes about morons mistaking Kurt for Scott.
Michael Weiss opened the show performing to Queen's Somebody to Love. As always, Mike Pike found an excuse to don some pleather pants. Even if Michael Weiss didn't already sell shirtless photos of himself on his official website, you'd still get a pretty clear picture that he imagines himself to be a heartthrob by watching him perform. Michael's skating skills aren't what they once were, but he does his best to fulfill the obnoxiously entertaining Steven Cousins slot. He ''elected to do a few doubles'' (Lutz and Toe), but did manage a back flip and a Triple Flip. Then he was out of the way for a while. Phew.
Joannie Rochette was next and this was the first time I'd actually seen her skate in person. Frau noted that Jo Ro is much tinier in person (and then he said it in French in honor of her habit of providing a translation for every one of her tweets.) I noted that her shoulders are looking far more feminine than ever before. Keeping with the cast's love of the Glee soundtrack, Joannie skated to True Colors. In person, her edges are nice, but they aren't the total Canadian orgasm that Tracy Wilson would write about in the forward of her memoir. Her skating is very lovely, but it just doesn't stand out at the end of the night. It is her first year as a pro and she is doing a fine job. She will develop. Joannie landed a Triple Salchow, Triple Toe and a Double Axel.
Then Todd skated. Is he 50 yet or does he just look it? Granted, 'the familiar pair of loafers' looked about 38 in Albertville. To put Todd in perspective, you need to remember that he was supposed to be the male American medalist at those games. Had that happened, he might have joined Stars on Ice with Yamaguchi. It didn't happen and he's only now beginning to reach the point where Roz Sumners finally married that old dude to stay on the tour. He skated to some Frank Sinatra song, but the entire thing was sad. His spins were weak and his skating skills have deteriorated immensely. To be fair, he pulled off a Double Axel and a Triple Toe. I can be harsh on Todd, but every one of his programs is exactly the same. He doesn't even have the spins anymore. Yet, I've seen far worse. Last year, Viktor Petrenko performed at the Ice Vault Holiday Show and couldn't keep himself from traveling 12 feet on his scratch spin due to his 50-pound beer gut (vodka gut---he's Russian.)
Katia came out next and put everyone except for Yu-Na Kim to shame with her skating skills. Finally, there was a PERFORMANCE. Katia is performing to Cinema Italiano and finally looks like she has gotten over her requisite mourning period. For years, she was always so serious when she performed. The blonde hair dye is seeping in and she finally is allowing herself to have fun out there. She is now outwardly showing that she's a full-blown diva. It only takes her two or three crossovers to get from one end of the ice surface to the other and you can tell that she's quite proud of it. Katia landed a Double Toe, Turned out of and then fell on a Double Axel (it was unnecessary and uncalled for!) and then landed a Double Lutz. Frau made some rude joke that the lyric about the 'guidos' was fitting for being in Jersey. Mommy Dearest pointed out that he is from rural Minnesota and should shut up because no one even lives there because it is so cold and boring.
Belgosto performed next to 'Use Somebody' (the program with the random scarf.) Ben's feet are fabulous and Tanith...she is a beautiful actress. They were born to ham it up as professionals. Tanith and Jamie Sale are so good at eye-fucking the audience that I need to remind myself to look at their partners. Tanith and Ben do a ton of lifts. It is amazing how much her extension improved over Linichuk. It even makes you begin to forget all of the gangly and awkward years. The program was nice, but forgettable. As for the scarf, we still have no idea what that was about.
Evan, Katia and Jamie came out and did a lovely interlude. It wasn't complex choreographically, but it provided a nice moment.
The last time I saw SOI, Kurt Browning stole the show with both of his numbers. A decade later, he is still stealing the show. It is unreal how great he is period, let alone still as after all these years. Kurt-Didn't-Start-The-Fire reeled off a Spread Eagle+Double Axel+Spread Eagle that would make even make Peggy Fleming a bit envious. He did a Triple Toe and a Triple Salchow and some awesome footwork. Kurt's Steppin Out has some of the classic Stars on Ice cheese, but I ate that shit up on crackers. I didn't even get cynical, because I melt over Kurt.
For some reason other than current ability, Sasha Cohen skated after Kurt Browning. If you've ever seen Sasha perform exhibitions, you'll know that she rarely has any programs that a choreographer would take credit for. Aside from the 2008-2009 tour, Don't Rain On My Parade and a select few of her competitive programs, a typical Sasha number involves performing every one of her famous poses. Instead of just doing a spiral sequence across the ice, she does an ina bauer for 2/3 of the ice, holds her leg in an I-position going from end-to-end and does a charlotte, all with that self-satisfied smirk across her face. Sadly, Sasha is no longer taking pride in her eating disorder. She is no longer worried about 'losing those two pounds' like she was in the Kiss and Cry at last year's Nationals and she no longer has any standards for her skating either. In fact, she looked bored by her own performance to Pink's Nobody Knows. When she skated out in her hideous yellow dress with her awful new haircut, Frau exclaimed, 'Oh look, it's Rachael Flatt!' It is really astounding to see where she is now and remember that she was trying to make the Olympic Team just fifteen months ago. Photographers really must love Sasha, because she never skates out of their frame while doing her iconic poses. To be frank, she barely moves across the ice anymore. Even her spiral is looking labored. It has really gone down hill since Torino, but Katia's was somehow more impressive given her speed and ice coverage. I'll be honest: I prefer anorexic Sasha. If I'm paying $90 for a ticket, I want that girl performing to an up tempo number by some fag hag, I want her spinning well and preferably falling on at least one jump to feel like I'm getting my money's worth. She didn't even jump during her first solo. Point Katia.
Note: Various theories exist regarding Sasha's awful boy haircut. It appears that she is making a last-ditch effort at finally landing her own TV special. Given that Steve Disson has already put on such embarrassing shit as Riverdance and the unforgettable Tara Lipinski's Hip Hop on Ice, Sasha is trying to prove that she can finally carry Yentl: The Ice Musical.
Sale and Pelletier skated out and one could surmise that Jamie really enjoys skating after Sasha in both acts. Say what you will about Love Story, but Jamie and David are amazing show skaters. They don't even look at one another during the entire show (or speak), yet they're still incredible together. Their lifts are out of this world, he is still hot, she can sell it, and they even pulled off a throw triple salchow. Wild Horses got a huge response from the crowd.
Mike and Todd came out and got the little girls to deliver high-pitched screams in an attempt to win a skate bag. I wanted to stab them.
Finally, it was time for Evan to come out in his black beater and skate to The Climb. Smucker's finds it very masculine to perform to Miley as long as it is sung by a male. To my surprise, his arms were toned done. I began wondering if he was reserving his energy to unleash those badass windmills during Moulin Rouge. His skating is still top notch. Evan actually looked to be experimenting a bit with spin positions and style. His technical level is still there. The Triple Flip and Triple Lutz looked easy. The OCD trainer still does all of his jumping passes during the pre-show warmup. Mind you, I'm not an Evan fan and I was impressed. This is not my first time seeing him live. I've seen him swing those limbs for the points before and was one of the few humorless bitches not giving him a Standing O. He has improved. Sadly, Evan was looking a bit pale during this show. His hair was short (not slicked and greasy) and his skin was only a burnt sienna hue. Sadness. Luckily, Vera Wang didn't mind. She manages to clap with her entire sixty-five pound body when Evan is performing. She doesn't applaud just the jumps or spins. Every mohawk manages to get a full body clap with her hands occasionally missing each other and slapping her husband. We get it: you love Evan. The only really bizarre and fashionably curious thing about Ms. Wang is that she wears one of those fashion ski caps indoors. Like, bitch, it's not that cold. Luckily, her assistants are there for the body heat (and to keep those plastic cups flowing.)
The skaters then did an annoying group number to 'Knock Knock.' The predictable 'Who's There?' begins the second act. The only thing that really stands out is that for a headliner, Sasha manages to really blend in during the group numbers. You'd barely know it was her if she didn't just do a stag jump when everyone else does a triple during their solo spotlight moment. Oh, Tanith vamps and all of the guys faint. Typical day at the office for her.
Kurt then introduced the Stars on Ice alum in the audience. Kyoko Ina thought Kurt was talking about her when he mentioned a show stealer, but she flashed her icy stare when it became apparent that he was talking about the now-brunette Lucinda Ruh. Lucinda was wearing 'a lot of look' but was there with her new husband and showing off her honker wedding ring. Kyoko corrected Kurt when he incorrectly credited her for winning four (instead of five) national titles. Observing Kyoko in stands, she was about as friendly as one would expect after John or Jason missed their side-by-side jumps.
Joannie skated the first solo of the second act with Burlesque. It is a fun number, but the choreography could be a bit better given how catchy the song is. She did a Triple Toe, then was tentative going into a Triple Salchow and 'elected to do a double' (In my mind, Tara Lipinski was saying HMMMM) and then threw in another Triple Toe. It was a nice number in a hot pink costume.
Kurt, Sasha and Todd came out for their mime number. It was really all about Kurt's comedic acting ability until Todd messed up the kites and muttered a few expletives. Sasha lifted up her leg a few times.
Katia came out skating to Whitney Houston and powered off the double axel she missed earlier with the intensity of a true Russian Bitch. She also did a double loop, a catch foot spin and an amazing back spiral to skid moment that was total 'hot damn!' The only iffy moment was that she revealed herself to possess an Oksana Bail 'over-the-shoulder' Soviet layback.
Michael Weiss skated a number in overalls to show off some skin. He elected to do a Double Flip, did a Back Flip and a Triple Toe. He was special, yet still better than Todd.
Belgosto were next and did their Flamenco program. This number was a disaster during the show filmed for TV (which Tanith was PISSY over), but it really worked in person. Ben is a total ham and gets into being a flamenco dancer. He has certainly had experience given the 37 Latin programs they've done throughout their career. Tanith now wears a white rufflely dress with a red flower in her hair. Your eye immediately focuses on her. It is really a spectacular program for them and way better than whatever they were doing with that scarf.
Todd came out and it was Adult Nationals all over again. He did another slow ballad and did a Double Axel and a Triple Toe. What's funny is that now when Todd attempts the Double Axel, he still does his classic big long telegraphed approach like he's about to pop a triple during the Olympics.
Tanith and Ben come out and introduce Sasha's Mein Herr for no apparent reason. Sasha's costume is a bit scant for her current state, but she actually gave the program significant effort. I mean, she actually kept a majority of the choreography that we initially saw over the summer when it debuted. Sasha landed a Double Toe and shocked everyone by pulling off a Triple Salchow. Sasha was extremely excited after the program, pumped her fist and finally gave a smile that extended to her eyes.
Kurt really had a moment with Downstream. He only does a Double Axel in the program, but the man doesn't even need to jump with everything he does with his feet and his blades. They need to give him a raise and bring him (and Katia) back next year. Superb.
Jamie and David's Scream brought the house down like it does every night. It works. Her costume may make you think camel toe, but the program just works in person. Once again, they barely acknowledged one another's presence on the ice.
Evan came out for Moulin Rouge and Vera Wang was excited to the point where I'm surprised she is still breathing. They have security guards for keeping people like her from jumping over the barriers. Once again, her whole body was clapping for every inch of his program. Maybe he was tired because the arms weren't going at full throttle and the tension in the program was believable. He wasn't over-emoting like usual. Maybe he really is improving? I was shocked. I'm still shocked. Another Triple Flip, Triple Lutz, fast cannonball sit spin, Level 3/4 footwork and effective choreography.
I will now confess that I was a complete sucker for the finale. It was Tina Turner and the ladies were in Jeff Billings' sequin/bead-happy red dresses. Simply The Best. Katia came strutting out and was joined by Ben. Then they did some dance lifts. Then everyone comes out gradually and they skate around with the matched mohawks and three turns. They follow one another and all reach up with their arms and then lower them and point downward. Renee thought it was a good idea to have the cast take a break during the number and shake hands with the people who actually paid three-figure prices to sit on the ice. In theory, the ending of this number is really cool. They all form a line and each one does a kick and throws their head down like dominos while Michael Weiss reels off a back flip and manages to join them, kick and throw his head down right on the last beat. They sort of pull it off, but the idea was cool. I was in marching band and know that they need the additional rehearsal time to pull that off when people like Sasha are phoning it in in terms of effort. Joannie could also learn to tie her skates, so Frank Carroll wouldn't be offended by her 'mooning the audience' like Mirai Nagasu at Nationals when it comes untied mid-program.
I thought we'd just be singing some Tina Turner on our way home, but then the pisser happened...random ladies had extra 'post show' tickets (big stickers) and offered them to us. You didn't have to ask us twice. We realized it was obviously some sort of Meet and Greet. As we were waiting online, we realized that everyone's stickers had different initials on it. Of course, I looked down and noticed that we both had 'MW' written on our chests. We immediately felt like impostors and decided to use fake names and be super polite in case anyone thought we might be pesky bloggers or anything. Of course, Michael Weiss proved why Smucker's loves him so much and was changed, showered and there in a jiffy to see the 50 people with 'MW' on their chest. Already knowing that Lisa Weiss is apparently IN-FUCKING-TENSE, I told Frau to look away and avoid eye contact. We noticed Katia coming and quickly asked for a picture. Mind you, I also knew in advance that Katia is not exactly nice unless she randomly decides to like you. Seeing Katia approach, I immediately got a bit nervous with her icy stare. She was beginning to not know English. Look bitch, I know better. I own both of those best-selling books you pretended to write and bought your perfume for my mother for Easter. We found someone to take a photo. Katia proceeded to take photos with about three other people with the enthusiasm and gusto of being the girl in the locker room to lose at drawing straws and be forced to mingle. She peaced the fuck out in under four minutes.
Ben and Todd wandered in. We got a photo with Ben, who was even bubblier and nicer than we imagined. Of course, Frau had to ask Ben where Tanith was and if she was coming. Because that doesn't happen every time Ben meets a fan... We kept trying to avoid Lisa Weiss and then Yuki Saegusa beelined over and asked us what we thought of the show. She was lovely. We discussed Cheryl Burke's fabulous intensity on Dancing With The Stars and she promised that Derek will be back next season.
Overall, the tour was a great time. It is a shame that they don't publicize more and that no one goes. It is sad. Yet, they need to make everyone up to a certain standard. If this was American Idol, Mike, Sasha and Todd would be in the bottom three. I don't just say that Jeff Buttle needs to be in the cast because I crush on him; they need to up the standard of skating. Look, even nice Lu Chen was booted off the tour for only doing singles. It is time to make every number hot. Bringing back the Bezic is probably too much to ask. You know that ego is expensive.