• Aly Leia Wein

U.S. Stars on Ice 2019

ANAHEIM, CA - Two weeks after seeing the Canadian Stars on Ice tour in Halifax, I was lucky enough to take in its American counterpart when the beloved cross-country caravan played Anaheim's Honda Center this past Saturday, May 11th. Stars on Ice presented by Musselman's, now in its 33rd season, has been delighting audiences across North America since 1986, when Olympic champion Scott Hamilton first gathered his friends, picked out some tunes, and got this ice show on the road.

(Cover photo by Stars on Ice)

Back in 2014, hot off the heels of Meryl Davis and Charlie White's Olympic victory in Sochi,

Stars on Ice was the place to be. Being a young teenager obsessed with Gracie Gold and Meryl & Charlie, I begged my parents for tickets to the Anaheim show, only two hours south of us. That night was something I'll never forget because it was the first time I had seen that level of figure skating in person. It was magical, and I was hooked. So it was a very full circle moment when I stepped back into that chilly arena five years later. This time, however, I was (more or less) an adult, and I was there as media, with skating having taken over my life, in the form of this blog (as well as the source of all my credit card debt).

Before the show, I had the opportunity to watch warm-ups and interview national champion ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue (interview coming soon!). I also watched the Q&A session that four-time national champion Jeremy Abbott and 2018 Olympian Bradie Tennell did with a few dozen young skaters from local clubs. As U.S. Figure Skating members, these starry-eyed kids got to watch the show, meet their favorite skaters, and even perform on the ice during intermission. The pre-show fun was just icing on the cake of an amazing night at Stars on Ice.

Same as with the Canadian tour, the U.S. show started off with a music video of the cast lip-synching to The Buggles' 70s hit, "Video Killed The Radio Star." The creativity present in every detail in Stars on Ice is one of the many reasons that the tour has been going strong for over three decades.

"Video Killed The Radio Star"

(Video by Jason H. Thompson)

First up was the quintessential pump-up song, Lady Gaga's "Born This Way." The American and Canadian casts share the same music and choreography (courtesy of world champion Jeffrey Buttle) for group numbers, but of course every skater adds a little something different to the mix and puts their own spin on all of the footwork and facial expressions. This number is edgy (literally and figuratively) and is basically a cavalcade of ripped denim, faded band tees, and a whole lot of tricks and spunk. It does exactly what an opening number is supposed to do - it gets the audience revved up for the sheer awesomeness that will ensue over the next two hours.

Baby, you were born this way!

(Photo by Robert Mora)

Normally, current world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou would have been up next, skating to "Made in China," but due to an injury sustained during the Long Island tour stop, he was unable to perform. Many fans were disappointed that they wouldn't get to see the California-born skater, as his Act II program to Joji's "Slow Dancing in the Dark" is always an audience favorite.

2019 US silver medalist and 2018 Olympic bronze medalist Bradie Tennell started off skating to a mix of Rihanna's "Stay" and "Diamonds," which was actually her exhibition program in the 2018-19 season. Bradie whizzed around the ice like a leather-clad ballerina, demonstrating beautiful spin positions and graceful arms, as well as a bit of ferocity not usually seen in her trademark "good girl" programs. In the second act, she brought back her dramatic "Romeo + Juliet" free skate from this season, as she was not ready to say goodbye to it. I'd love to see Bradie perform some more upbeat, pure fun numbers in the future to contrast with her current intense repertoire.

Especially after speaking with 2018 Olympians Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue prior to show, I was even more excited to see their new show programs, as these two are some of the strongest artists and technicians in ice dance right now. Their first number, a lyrical piece to Ben Howard's "Oats in the Water," was choreographed by Mr. Donohue himself. Also a talented musician, he has aspirations of becoming a professional choreographer - and he's certainly more than qualified. Madi and Zach's passion and connection truly set them apart, and this tall duo skate like an easy evening breeze, bringing forth new colors and emotions you never thought were even possible.

As for their Act II number, a Queen medley, I could sing its praises for hours on end. Combining three of (in my opinion) the best Queen songs - "Another One Bites the Dust," "We Will Rock You," and "Don't Stop Me Now" - this program is definitely one of the best in their arsenal. Zach opened the number skating around in a red velvet cape until he stripped it off (it got stuck that night, but that's a minor detail) and flung it to the side like the badass he is; Madi also had a costume change, when she took off her jacket to reveal long, flowing sleeves. It should be noted that all of Madi's costumes are made by her very talented mother - how cool is that?! In summary, Zach is an adorable ham, Madi is a fierce swan, and these two are simply spectacular and exceedingly entertaining.

Two words: YAS QUEEN - literally!

(Photo 1 and 3 by @hanabi0489, photo 2 by Patinart Photo,

photo 4 by Amanda Bess)

I don't know what's cooler, the ice or part-time world champion/part-time Yale student Nathan Chen. Besides winning gold at both his Grand Prix assignments, the Grand Prix Final, Nationals, Worlds, and World Team Trophy this season, he also successfully completed his freshman year at one of the most prestigious Ivy League schools. Nathan is an overachiever in the best sense of the word and puts 200% into everything he does, from his clean quads to his midterm papers. His first program of the night, "Next To Me," was a showstopper and gave every audience member chills.

He also brought back his acclaimed short program from this season, the Shae-Lynn Bourne-choreographed "Caravan." He puts such character into every element, and to be honest, the spirited step sequences were my favorite part. Going into a camel spin, Nathan fell off his toepick and onto the ice, but then started doing push-ups with the confident attitude of, "See that fall? Yeah, I meant to do that." If you have the chance to see Nathan Chen skate live, I eagerly urge you to take it. He's landed every quad jump except a quad axel in international competition, so I'm looking forward to seeing that (and maybe some quint jumps?) in his future, as well as observing how his choreographic expression further develops as he matures both on and off the ice.

Since she became the third-ever woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics, Mirai Nagasu has kept busy off the ice with Dancing with the Stars and now as an intern for ABC7 LA. But on the weekends, she's back in Stars on Ice, entertaining the crowd with programs to Daughter's "Youth" and Madilyn Bailey's "Halo." From leggings and a crop top to a sparking white dress fit for an ice princess, Mirai proves that she's still got what it takes to leave audiences across the country in awe, no matter what she's skating to.

Mirai can do it all!

(Left and right photos by @liz.on.ice, center photo by @mayumakko)

How does one describe two-time Olympian Jeremy Abbott? I'll start off by saying that by the time the show was over, Jermey had landed three backflips on the ice. In the Canadian cast, the oldest is Kurt Browning at 52 (who did one backflip), and in the American cast, the oldest is Jeremy at 33. I really liked Jeremy's program to Jamie Cullum's cover of "Pure Imagination" - the lights went up on Jeremy sitting on a stool while nostalgically watching four different programs from his past play on the four different screens in each corner of the arena, which I thought was a nice touch. In Act II, Jeremy skated to "Weathered" by Jack Garratt, and I was instantly struck by his poetic style of skating, strong edges, and ever-present emotion in his eyes. It was recently announced that Jeremy will be joining Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's Rock The Rink tour in the fall, so it will be exciting to see him join forces with the two-time Canadian Olympic gold medalists and company.

It's hard to believe that it's been over five years since ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White were crowned Olympic champions in Sochi. With their soaring, complex lifts and utmost technical precision that made them two of the best in the world, they remind everyone what great skating looks like. Meryl and Charlie are ageless; the only indication that it's 2019 and not 2014 is the disappearance of Charlie's mop of blonde curls (which have been replaced by a more subtle brown-colored style).

Their first number was a Queen medley, which makes me wonder why they didn't team up with Hubbell and Donohue (who also skated to Queen) and merge their programs into one big "dance off"-style number. Meryl and Charlie's second program of the night was to "Lilac Wine," which was just as melodic and delicate as it sounds. I hope these champs continue to participate in Stars on Ice for many, many seasons to come.

Meryl and Charlie skating to the soulful "Lilac Wine"

(Photos by On Ice Perspectives)

2014 Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Wagner knows how to work a crowd - she was born to perform, and there wasn't a dull moment any time this sassy skater was on the ice. Her first number, "Groove is in the Heart" by Deee-Lite, featured Ashley in a sparkly hot pink two-piece. Alternating between sultry and sweet, Ashley showed off her powerhouse jumps and winning dance moves in this bold and bright program. Ashley's second number, a rousing "Dog Days are Over" program, was also jam-packed with dynamite elements and the very definition of serving looks. Miss Wagner has definitely found her niche in show skating, where her sauciness and fire can be aptly appreciated.

Maia and Alex Shibutani (aka the Shib Sibs) were catapulted to stardom after winning Olympic bronze last year and are now perhaps two of the most well-known ice dancers (let alone figure skaters) in the world. This brother-sister duo, recognized for their synchronicity and consistency, decided to dream of paradise once again with an expressive Coldplay medley in the first act (featuring "Us Against the World" and "Life in Technicolor II"), as well as a truly "lit" Daft Punk medley (featuring "Doin' It Right" and "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger") in the second act. The Shibs are always enjoyable to watch, especially during their impassioned step sequences. The music speeds up, the crowd goes silent, and some magical moments occur right before your eyes.

Anaheim (and San Jose) audiences were in for a treat when Alysa Liu, who in January became the youngest-ever US Figure Skating national champion, was a guest star on ice. Even with the overnight fame that followed her triple axel takeover at 2019 Nationals, Alysa - only thirteen years old - is still as hardworking, focused, and down-to-earth as ever. Sparkling the ice with joy and abandon while performing her colorful "Don't Rain on my Parade" short program, Alysa skates for the pure love of skating, and you can tell she obviously is having a ball out there. Even walking backstage, she was adorned in "it's a small world" mouse ears (since the arena is right down the street from Disneyland) and smiled at everyone who passed by. I hope she always stays this happy, humble, and injury-free as she takes on the world with her big personality and even bigger jumps.

Don't rain on this little champion's parade!

(Photos by Calvin Kwan)

It occurred to me that the traditional "girls number" and "boys number" that are usually present in Stars on Ice were tossed out in favor of the nearly 10-minute-long 90s medley, as well as the Act II opener, "Trusty and True." The number was fun fun fun and featured many iconic hits from the 1990s, including songs from artists like the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls. Basically, how it worked was that several skaters would go skate to a certain song, and then tag-team it over to a new little group of skaters. It was very similar to the "dance battle" present in Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's The Thank You Canada Tour last fall - the only other major touring ice show (other than Disney on Ice) in North America - but I guess imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. The cast all joined together during the end of the Act I finale, set to "Everybody Dance Now." The number usually ends with Meryl Davis doing the worm, but on Saturday we were treated to Madison Hubbell doing the classic dance move instead. "Pump Up The 90s" was a smash success and definitely one of the major highlights of the show for me.

The second act opened with a soft, lyrical number to Damien Rice's "Trusty and True," which featured the cast outfitted in grey and pastels, dressed as waitresses, plumbers, lawyers, etc. - those kind of "traditional" jobs. I didn't really understand it the first time I saw this number in Canada, but I really was entranced by it in Anaheim. The lyrics "come as you are" and "just come" allude to the fact that life is short, and the most important thing is just to show up and try your best - at least that's what I got from it.

The Act II finale was to Joe Cocker's stirring cover of "With a Little Help from my Friends," which gave everyone goosebumps and was a lovely, touching way to end the show.

Stars on Ice 2019 (dubbed the "Unity Tour") was such a unique experience and made me realize that you don't have to fly across the continent to witness great figure skating because thanks to Stars on Ice, you can now see Olympic, world, and national champions in your very own backyard. It's an easy way to take in a dozen of the world's most talented skaters, and the programs are all accessible and enjoyable for people of all ages and interests; whether you love show tunes, retro favorites, or the latest hits, you'll find something that you connect with in this masterpiece of a show. In other words, Stars on Ice is the perfect gateway drug into the wonderful world of figure skating.

Ending the show with the famous Stars on Ice kick line

(Photo by Kevin Lu)

Don't Miss this year's Stars on Ice!

You only have one more chance to take in this stunning skating spectacular when it plays the Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Portland, OR on Saturday, May 18th! Tickets are still available at starsonice.com.

*Note: the Portland show venue was just moved from the Moda Center to the Veterans Memorial Coliseum, due to the Trailblazers' playoff schedule

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For tickets and more information, go to starsonice.com