Exhibitions and Shows

Review: Saying goodbye to Kurt Browning highlight of 2023 Stars on Ice tour

By Gina Capellazzi, Team FSO website administrator

HERSHEY, PA —Before I even arrived to the “Sweetest Place on Earth” — Hershey, Pennsylvania, I knew this was going to be an emotional Stars on Ice show for me as it was announced ahead of the Canadian and U.S. tours that this would be Kurt Browning’s final Stars on Ice tour. I grew up watching Kurt perform in Stars on Ice shows. He was the final of the legendary skaters that I grew up watching that was still performing on tour. So it seemed fitting that I would be in attendance for his final show.

I was fortunate enough to get to talk with Kurt ahead of the Canadian tour on my podcast, “This Week in Skating”, which I host with Ice-Dance.com’s Daphne Backman. Kurt shared with us the reason for his decision to step away from Stars on Ice as well as the programs he would be skating to in the show. I was looking forward to seeing them as well as saying goodbye.

Yet, I didn’t expect to feel that sadness right from the start. When I was there for the pre-show, the skaters were all taking photos with Kurt. There were a lot of hugs before the show even started.

The show kicked off with the cast skating to “All These Things That I’ve Done” by the indie rock band The Killers. It wasn’t as electrifying as last year’s opening number to AC/DC, but it was still an upbeat and exciting way to start the show.

Starting off the individual program numbers was 2023 U.S. Champion Isabeau Levito, who skated to Madonna’s “Material Girl”. This was Isabeau’s first Stars on Ice tour. It was nice to see her skating a program that different from her more classic competitive programs. We did get to see a typical Isabeau program as her second program was her “The Swan” program from the 2021-2022 season.

Following Levito was two-time World bronze medalists and two-time Olympians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, of Canada. Besides this being the final tour for Kurt Browning, the other major storyline of this tour was the fact that U.S. fans got to see international skaters for the first time in a number of years. I have seen Piper and Paul compete in-person before, but did not see them compete in-person this season, so I was thoroughly happy that I got to see an abbreviated version of their 2022-2023 Evita free dance. Their second program was “Annie’s Song/Thank God I’m a Country Boy” by John Denver. It was such a fun program, and I loved how some of the cast came out at the end, donning cowboy hats and with inflatable stick horses, adding to the country western theme.

Next up was 2022 Olympic Champion Nathan Chen, who came out to “Hold Me Closer” by Elton John and Britney Spears. With Nathan going to school this season and his future in competitive skating unknown, it was gratifying to see Nathan, still skating up to the caliber that we have seen from the Olympic Champion over the past few seasons. His second program, which closed out the individual programs of the show, was Electric Light Orchestra’s “Mr. Blue Sky”. It was upbeat and fun, and of course, included a Nathan Chen backflip.

The 2021 World Champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier took the ice after Nathan, skating to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper’s “Shallow.” In the second act, Knierim and Frazier skated their 2022-23 short program, “Separate Ways (Worlds Apart).” It was delightful to see Knierim and Frazier since we probably won’t see them compete next season given that Knierim will join her husband, Chris, in Chicago, and Frazier will be finishing his degree at the University of California in September. We will just have to wait and see what their competitive plans are.

Two-time U.S. Champion Alissa Czisny performed her only solo number, which was “Chasing Cars” performed Tommee Profitt & Fleurie during the first act. It’s been a few years since Alissa has performed in the U.S. tour. Her skating is so pure. Her spins and spiral were the highlights of her program.

You can always count on 2015 U.S. Champion and 2018 Olympic team bronze medalist Jason Brown to have a program that’s full of energy and one also allows him to interact with the crowd. And that’s exactly what Jason’s Backstreet Boys program was in the first half of the show. He switched it up in the second half of the program doing a modified version of his “Impossible Dream” free program, which is just as mesmerizing as the full version he competed at the 2023 U.S. Championships, World Championships and World Team Trophy.

With the addition of international skaters to this year’s tour, U.S. fans got to see two-time World medalist Loena Hendrickx, of Belgium. This was actually my first time seeing Loena skate in-person. I did see her brother compete at the 2016 World Championships, but haven’t yet gotten the opportunity to see Loena compete in-person. She performed to “Circus” by Britney Spears and “Loneliness” by Loni. Both were programs that I could see Loena doing as a competitive program.

2023 U.S. Champion and World bronze medalist Ilia Malinin kicked off his first Stars on Ice tour, performing to “All You Ever Wanted” by Rag ‘n’ Bone. He did do his abbreviated version of his “I’m Tired/Mount Everest” free skate, which included his high-energy step sequence. Videos have surfaced on social media of Ilia trying quad Axel-triple Axel+triple Axel+triple Axel+triple Axel during a pre-show at Stars on Ice. The pre-show at Hershey was really relaxed as it was the last show so Ilia did not attempt any crazy combinations. Most of the skaters spent the pre-show taking more photos with each other than actually practicing, but Ilia did do some experimenting with some footwork tricks with Kurt Browning that I noticed he added into his programs during the show. If my memory serves me correctly, I do believe Ilia landed a successful quad Axel in the warm-up, but did not attempt one during the actual show.

After Malinin, Madison Chock and Evan Bates skated a program that I hadn’t seen them skate before. It was to “Nightcall” by London Grammar. For their second act skate, Chock and Bates were introduced by Browning, Knierim and Frazier and Chen. It was a cute moment where the four World champions talked about teaching the “World Champions Secret Handshake’ to Chock and Bates. (News flash – there’s no “secret handshake”.) Following that little scene, the newly crowned World champions came out skating their rhythm dance, which was to “Let’s Dance” by David Bowie. It was a program that I enjoyed seeing one last time.

The man of the hour, or should I say the man of the tour, Kurt Browning, followed Chock and Bates. Unlike the rest of the cast, I knew what Kurt was going to skate to ahead of the show because of our podcast interview. So I knew one of his skates would be to “Please Forgive Me” by David Gray, which was choreographed by his wife, Alissa Czisny, and the second would be “Who are You” by The Who, which Kurt told us would have notable choreography for some of his iconic programs. I thoroughly enjoyed watching closely to see if I could pick out what program that choreography was from. I’ll admit I should have brushed up on my Kurt’s renowned programs before I went to see the show as I only was able to identify just a few programs based on a few pieces of choreography. Before his final skate, there was a montage showing Kurt Browning through the years. The montage was to the song  “Hall of Fame” by The Script ft. will.i.am. It had me crying.

The last cast member to skate an individual program was Satoko Miyahara, of Japan. It was the first time Satoko performed in the U.S. with Stars on Ice. I was fortunate to see Satoko compete in-person, numerous times – Worlds in 2016, Skate Canada International in 2017, Skate America in 2017 and 2021. I always appreciated Satoko’s artistry, elegance, grace and beauty, and I miss her skating in the competitive realm, but I was glad to see her perform with Stars on Ice. She skated to “Jenny of Oldstones” by Ramin Djawadi/Florence + the Machine and “Ne me quitte pas” by Jacques Brel/Maysa

Before intermission, the cast skated to “To Build a Home” by the Cinematic Orchestra. At first, I was a little skeptical of the choice in music, just because it’s become a quite popular piece of music for competitive programs recently. Yet, I didn’t expect the piece would bring me to tears as I didn’t realize until the end that it was a bit of a farewell piece to Kurt Browning. At the end of the program, the skaters separated, with the single skaters standing separately and the three teams (Alexa/Brandon, Piper/Paul and Madison/Evan) standing with their respective partner. Then one-by-one, Kurt skated to them and spent a few moments with each of them. At this point, the tears started rolling down my face. I felt like Kurt was saying his goodbyes and sort of passing the torch on to them to carry on the Stars on Ice legacy. For someone whose been attending Stars on Ice shows almost since the beginning, I couldn’t help but cry knowing that I was seeing a legend, one who I grew up watching, skate for the very last time in this tour.

The group number to start the second act was definitely different from the one that closed out the first act. It was a James Bond Medley. I loved the men wearing the suits and the women in the metallic-colored dresses. I’m not a fan of James Bond, but I did like the program.

The final group number was “Brand New” by Ben Rector. The cast came out in bright colored costumes. It was an enjoyable finale.

At the end, after the skaters were announced again and they did their bows, the cast gathered at center ice for a big group hug. Then before the cast completely left the ice, Browning said a few words to the audience and his fellow cast members. When he was done, the cast gave him another hug and they all exited off the ice.

So while it was sad that it was Kurt’s final Stars on Ice show, it was still a wonderful show and worth the four and a half-hour drive down to Hershey. I was glad to be in the audience to mark the end of an era for Kurt and see skaters like Ilia, Isabeau and Loena have their first tour experience. I hope those that got to see the 2023 tour enjoyed the show!

Until next season’s tour!