By Gina Capellazzi, Figure Skaters Online
ALBANY, NY – The Stars on Ice show has always been special to me. As a young child growing up in the 90’s, I remember my mom, standing out in sub-zero wind chills for two hours just to get on-ice tickets for a show. I have cherished memories of seeing the legends like Scott Hamilton, Kristi Yamaguchi, Kurt Browning and more, with other figure skating fans inside our city’s packed arena. Seeing the Stars on Ice show was truly a highlight for me and something I looked forward to every year.
While I still look forward to seeing the show annually, some things have changed since the hey-days of the tour. The once 50-plus city tour has now become not even half that, with many regions of the country not having a show within a reasonable driving distance. For me, located along the east coast, I have been lucky to find a show within a 4-5 hour drive as my city hasn’t had a show since the 25th anniversary tour in 2011. This year, I drove to Albany, NY for the tour’s third show on the 13-stop Stars on Ice presented by Musselman’s tour.
Arriving at the arena, I was disappointed to learn that 2019 World bronze medalist Vincent Zhou did not make the trip to Albany with the rest of the cast due to a slight injury he suffered back stage at the Long Island show the weekend before. He would not perform in the Hershey, PA, Providence, RI, and Worcester, MA shows later in the weekend. An announcement was made prior to the Albany show to notify the audience of his absence.
But despite not being able to see Zhou in his Stars on Ice regular cast member debut, the talent and performance of this tour was still top notch, and worth the four-hour trip!
Before the cast took the ice, fans were treated to a video showing the cast lip syncing to the 1979 song, The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star”, the first music video ever played on MTV in 1981. Following the video, the cast kicked off the show with an energetic performance to “Born This Way” by Lady Gaga. All the group numbers were choreographed by 2006 Olympic bronze medalist Jeffrey Buttle.
Missing from the opening number was 2018 U.S Champion and Olympic team event bronze medalist Bradie Tennell, who was the first to skate following the opening number. Bradie skated to her 2019 exhibition program, “Stay/Diamonds” by Rihanna, choreographed by Benoit Richaud. Though I had seen the program earlier in the season, it was still a great start to the show.
Vincent Zhou would have skated his “Made in China” by Higher Brothers and DJ Snake program immediately following Tennell. His “Made in China” program was choreographed by seven-time Japanese National Champion ice dancer Cathy Reed, who taught Zhou the program while he was in Japan between the World Championships and World Team Trophy. But with Zhou’s absence, the second individual program that the Albany audience got to see was two-time U.S. Champions and two-time World medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue skating to “Oats in the Water” by Ben Howard. This is a new show program for them and it was choreographed by Donohue. This was the first time I have seen a program choreographed by him and I’ve got to say I want to see him choreograph more because this program was exquisite. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning where Hubbell and Donohue skated apart, yet facing one another for almost a minute before coming together to skate.
Next up was two-time World Champion and three-time U.S. Champion Nathan Chen, who also showed off his choreography skills with a program to “Next to Me” by Otto Knows, which he debuted at the gala at the World Championships. Because Chen was not in the opening group number, this was the first time the crowd got to see him and they erupted in loud cheers as he took the ice. The first footwork sequence as the music built to a dance/techno beat was a highlight for me in this program. He has grown into quite an entertainer.
The tour allowed fans to see some of their favorites that were absent from the competitive realm this past season, including 2018 Olympic team event bronze medalist Mirai Nagasu, who skated following Chen. Nagasu skated to “Youth” by the indie rock group Daughter. The program was choreographed for her by Adam Blake. This was a different style for her, compared to last year’s tour when she skated to a sexy “Body Language” by Queen program and then came out in a black cap for a whimsical “No Good Deed” from the musical Wicked program. This “Youth” program was more of an expressive piece and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
It was great to see four-time U.S. Champion and 2014 Olympic team event bronze medalist Jeremy Abbott back on the Stars on Ice tour, and his “Pure Imagination” by Jamie Cullum program, choreographed by Benoit Richaud. This program was very Jeremy. Known for his beautiful, lyrical style of skating, this program was very melodic and was captivating to watch.
The popularity of the 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody probably had a lot to do with the fact that there were two Queen medleys in this year’s tour. The first came from 2014 Olympic Champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White. They skated to” Somebody To Love”, “I Want to Break Free” and “It’s A Kind of Magic”. It was an enjoyable performance and, no offense to White, I did like the introduction to the program with Jeremy Abbott and Davis briefly skating together to Joe Cocker’s “You Are So Beautiful”.
It was also a welcoming sight to see Ashley Wagner performing in this tour, after her absence from competition this season. Based on her selection of music for the tour, it appeared Wagner was just looking to have a good time out there. Her first program “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite, choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne, was just so much fun to watch! It got me ready for what I already knew was coming–the “Pump Up the 90’s” group number.
The final individual number in the first act was from double Olympic bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who skated to “Us Against the World/Life in Technicolor II” by Coldplay. Though some skating fans may think ‘why another Coldplay program?’, I was very fond of both the Shibutanis’ “Fix You” and “Paradise” free dances, so this was enjoyable for me, and seeing their signature twizzles was icing on the cake.
I’m a sucker for the group numbers in Stars on Ice, and this year, the “Pump Up the 90’s” group number was the best one I have seen in a while. With the rest of the cast looking on, it started out with Salt-N-Pepa’s “Shoop” where Ashley Wagner and Madison Hubbell brought back the 90’s dance moves, including the Roger Rabbit. The crowd let out a big cheer when Hubbell proceeded to balance Wagner on her lap in a backward shoot-the-duck type position. They then turned it over to the men, who showed off their smooth dance moves to Blackstreet’s “No Diggity”, and once again wowed the crowd when Charlie White and Zachary Donohue flipped Jeremy Abbott. Then the girls took over again with a fun skate to “Stop” by the Spice Girls. They were then interrupted by Nathan Chen, who came out to Backstreet Boys’ “I Want It That Way”. It was a welcome sight to see Chen participating in this small section of the group number. Having attended the pre-show, I witnessed White, Abbott, Donohue and Alex Shibutani teaching Chen the part just that afternoon as he was appearing in the slot left vacated by the injured Vincent Zhou. Chen picked up the moves quickly and was having fun being the fifth member of the boy band. Then Nagasu and Tennell brought a little No Doubt to the ice, with “I’m Just a Girl”, that was highlighted by in sync double Axels. Then Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani came out to “Good Vibrations”. The ending lift with White and Alex Shibutani picking up Maia Shibutani horizontally, attempting to be like a piano/keyboard with Davis playing, was very creative.
The almost 10-minute 90’s number ended with a final group choreographic dance sequence to “Everybody Dance Now” that included the Running Man dance, and then the final note was Meryl Davis doing the worm on the ice. The whole 90’s number was just superb. It was just nice to see the cast let loose and have fun performing to a decade that they were familiar with, since 99% of the cast was either born or grew up in the 90’s. (The only exception was Vincent Zhou, the youngest member of the cast, who was born in 2000!).
Following the intermission, the second half opened with a group number to “Trusty and True” by Damien Rice. It was a different style group number compared to the one that closed out the first act. But as I said, I’m a fan of these group numbers as I like seeing the cast skate together.
Mirai Nagasu‘s “Halo” was the first individual program for the second half. I did like the transition into the program with Nagasu skating with Alex Shibutani and Charlie White before taking the ice by herself. The program was just light and beautiful, and her white dress was gorgeous.
Following Nagasu would have been Vincent Zhou. I was looking forward to seeing this program (“Slow Dancing in the Dark” by Joji that he debuted at the 2019 World Championships gala) as well because it was choreographed by Stars on Ice alum and 2015 Four Continents silver medalist Joshua Farris. Hopefully, fans in the mid-west and west coast will get to see Zhou perform. It’s been a bummer that his Stars on Ice regular cast debut is being cut short by injury, but I wish him a speedy recovery!
Bradie Tennell’s second program was a familiar one – as she skated to a condensed version of her Romeo and Juliet free skate that was choreographed by Benoit Richaud. Speaking with Tennell prior to the show, she said she chose to skate to it at Stars on Ice because she wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the program just yet.
In flashy gold and silver sequins jackets, Maia and Alex Shibutani came out for their second program, “Doin’ It Right/Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” by Daft Punk. The electro-style program had me moving my head along to the beat, and the choreography was spot-on with the music.
Jeremy Abbott’s “Weathered” program choreographed by Michelle Dawley had a little bit of everything, with euphonious and expressive choreography at the beginning and then as the tempo picked up at the conclusion of the program, the crowd went nuts when Abbott did his backflip!
Meryl Davis and Charlie White slowed things down for their second half number and skated a beautiful lyrical performance to “Lilac Wine” by The Cinematic Orchestra. My first reaction as they took the ice was Davis’ lilac dress was absolutely stunning.
Ashley Wagner’s second program was “Dog Days are Over” by Florence and the Machine, which was choreographed by Eliot Halverson. Meryl Davis and Charlie White had skated to this selection before in a previous Stars on Ice tour, but it is such fun and hip song and it was well-suited for Ashley. As I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed the fact that Ashley skated two fun, up-beat programs as she loves to perform for a crowd.
The second Queen medley came from Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. As noted above, both Davis and White’s and Hubbell and Donohue’s programs featured different Queen selections. Hubbell and Donohue opened with him coming out in a Freddie Mercury-style red robe and conducted a little lip-syncing before Hubbell joined him for “Another One Bites the Dust”, “We Will Rock You” and “Don’t Stop Me Now”. While some fans say the skaters should have consulted one another about their dueling Queen medleys, I enjoyed both of them as they were each different. Last year, Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell both did songs from The Greatest Showman film, so this year, it was an influx of Queen.
Closing out the individual numbers was Nathan Chen, who performed a show version of his short program “Caravan” choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne. It was a delight to see this program again, a favorite of mine this season, performed without judges and the pressure of competition. It surely came a live more and you could see him just have fun with it.
The show concluded with the final group number, “With a Little Help from My Friends” by Joe Cocker. The cast shook hands with the on-ice ticket holders and finished with the trademark Stars on Ice kick line.
Overall, it was another exceptional Stars on Ice show, and as I said, worth the four-hour drive. After a long season, it is just nice to see the cast have fun and just perform with one another for an audience. I know that is what the cast enjoys the most and it is why they sacrifice a few weeks after the season to take part in this tour.
So if you have the opportunity to see one of the remaining Stars on Ice shows, please do! The cast works hard to make it such an entertaining and enjoyable show!