Following a post-Vancouver Stars on Ice where the crowd was so small that I felt bad for the skaters, I was pretty much done with skating tours and content to live with my ’90s childhood memories of sold out Champions of Ice shows. But I couldn’t pass up the recent P&G Walmart American Legends show in East Rutherford, NJ when I saw the cast list spanned Dick Button to Diva Wagner and everyone in between. The fact that the show would double as a mini Scotty McCreery concert was both confusing and hilarious.
Arriving at the Izod Center, the crowd seemed thin, but taking into account that it was (1) Wednesday; (2) Christmas time; and (3) not 1997, it was a semi-decent sized crowd. The usual mix of senior citizens and families with kids plus some hardcore skating fans mixed in. The show started with all the Olympic medalists being introduced on a platform in front of two giant Oxytrol for Women signs. I thought pictures from Olympics past would have been better, but hey, skating needs its sponsors. And it could have been worse- it could have been those abused animal commercials NBC subjects us to every week during the Grand Prix.
Ashley Wagner opened the show, skating to a Scotty McCreery tune called “The Trouble with Girls,” about how girls bat their eyes and are made of sugar and spice. The choreography she was doing was very clearly not set to that music. Parts of it resembled her short program and made me wish she was skating that instead. Shame on Disson Skating, Diva Wagner deserved better than this mess. Despite the ghastly music selection, the National Champ rocked a sparkly blue dress and her now trademark fierce ponytail, but looked tired. There was no jump combination and Nancy Kerrigan’s spins were faster. No candles yet though, it appeared she just needs post Grand Prix rest and maybe to never skate to country music again.
Max Aaron then came out in a flannel shirt that matched Scotty McCreery. I immediately became fearful that they were going to force the skaters to make Scotty happen for the entire show. Max performed in his Max-esque way but stumbled on a triple axel and popped a triple lutz. After the show, he did like five retakes until he got that lutz even after a fall. You got the sense he would have done it 50 times if that’s what it took. It’s what I imagine Tara Lipinski’s storied frenzies were like, only Max was cheerful during the whole thing. Not sure what Nationals will hold for him, but you can’t count out that kind of grit. And props to him for signing autographs for what seemed like every kid who wanted one.
The “legends” were up next. Linda Frattianne and Rosalynn Sumners skated together- No jumps from either but you could tell who spent years with Stars on Ice and who spent years off the ice. Kitty and Peter Carruthers did a number in horrifying red and white jumper/romper costumes (maybe you had to be born before 1985 to appreciate it.) While I’m unable to be objective about him due to my feelings about IceNetwork commentary, they pulled off a death spiral and a one-handed lift. Credit must be given to the ’80s and early ’90s champs who took the ice, while more recent skaters like Tara and Sasha waved to the crowd.
Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir were quite possibly the biggest surprise of the night, closing out Act I. They brought the house down skating to Lorde’s Royals. Whoever choreographed this program is a genius as it showcased all of their strengths: the perfect lifts, a huge throw triple salchow and the insane headbanger- and was fun and even a little sexy. The cheering for them was second only to Brian Boitano. If PCS judging properly reflects the listed components at Nationals (ha!), they will not only beat all the other American pairs on the second mark- they will bury them. It’s sad that a real skating show circuit doesn’t exist anymore because they are made for it. This program should be skated for sold out crowds in 50 cities.
The same goes for Adam Rippon who performed the hell out of his A Song for You number. A combination of Adam, Jason Brown and Marissa & Simon might just be able to make show skating happen again in the U.S. As for Adam, gorgeous Rippon lutz, insanely fast spins. He looked well trained & appears definitively Sochi bound.
Madison Chock & Evan Bates did their short dance. He’s a great skater but the skating panda from the Grand Prix Final could step in for him halfway and I don’t know that anyone would notice. Her facial expressions ARE that team. Also representing U.S. dance, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto skated a gorgeous program to 1000 Years, reminding the audience why they were the ones who started the American surge in dance.
I actually forgot about Agnes Zawadski the first time I wrote this post. Her jumps and spins were very controlled and polished but the program lacked something. And I’m just not sure anyone should skate to I Will Always Love You, except maybe Jill Trenary in 1992.
Gracie Gold’s new short is as expected- no reinventing the wheel here. The music is a pretty and soft piano concerto, albeit unmemorable and perhaps un-Gracie. Her arms are significantly calmer, her movements more nuanced. The big jumps are back (including the 3Lz/3T combo, which was good enough on the first try but almost perfect on the retake). The spins are solid. She wore an elegant black dress with a high neckline and sheer sleeves. You can almost feel Frank & Lori in every aspect of this program. No one may remember this program in four years, but it entirely serves its purpose- she looks every bit Olympian.
Speaking of Olympians, Sarah Hughes skated with her little niece, which was very sweet and also a very clever way to avoid doing any actual jumps without it being super obvious. Nancy Kerrigan, on the other hand, looked like she had been seriously practicing for this night. She got through a watered down version of her 1994 short, even getting around a triple toe.
Paul Wylie is everything fans miss about 6.0. He commanded the ice with his Henry V routine and has the best Ina Bauer of any man ever. He came back on the retakes to perfect his double axel. Brian Boitano could still place respectably at Nationals with his Bring Him Home program. His spread eagle is brilliant as ever and he cleanly a triple toe-double toe.
The show ended with the old guard and the Olympic hopefuls doing a group number to America the Beautiful. It had just the right tone of schmaltz. I found myself all verklempt watching skaters who are about to become Olympians in a few weeks on the ice with their Olympic heroes. I left that night excited for Boston, excited for Sochi, and contemplating buying those GO USA mittens. And so it seems, in the end, this show did exactly what it set out to do.