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Holiday Celebration on Ice

by Dorothy Knoell

For anyone wanting to jump as quickly as possible into the Christmas season, the Pandora Holiday Celebrations on Ice show in Greensboro, N.C., on Nov. 13 was a perfect choice.

It was a choice made by quite a few, as the lower bowl at the Greensboro Coliseum was nicely full on that Friday night as a cast of champion skaters joined the band Train to usher in the Christmas season (scheduled for broadcast on Sunday, Nov. 29, and again on Sunday, Dec. 13, on ABC).

Last year, the Disson Skating annual holiday show took a bit of a turn when the musical group scheduled was unable to do the show, so a quick scramble brought in two different acts, but neither had Christmas music to offer, so the show ended up with a hard-rock feel through much of the program, with each skater doing one song to the live rock bands and one to recorded Christmas music. On TV, that ended up being mostly rock music, as all the performances to the live music were shown, with only a few Christmas songs making the broadcast.

There was no such situation this year, as Train was releasing its first Christmas album, Christmas in Tahoe, on the day of the show, so all eight songs that Train did were Christmas, as were all those the skaters brought in themselves. All that Christmas music, coupled with the lovely set, with color-changing Chistmas trees setting the tone, made for an evening of Christmas cheer.

The cast featured the most recent U.S. Olympic gold medalists (dance), Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and one of the most veteran U.S. Olympic gold medalist still performing (men’s), Brian Boitano, and they were the obvious crowd favorites, although the rest of the cast -- including national champions Ryan Bradley, Alissa Czisny, Michael Weiss and Caydee Denney and John Coughlan, world champions Kimmie Meissner and Todd Eldredge, and pro champions Elena Leonova and Andrei Khvalko -- drew their fair share of cheers from the enthusiastic audience that appeared to very much enjoy both the band and the skaters.

Train performed eight Christmas songs for the cast to skate to, and added a “Train Set” (pun intended) just for the live audience after the finale of the show, singing one of its biggest hits, “Hey Soul Sister” with a lot of audience participation. The band members appeared to really enjoy performing with the skaters, as lead vocalist Pat Monahan was talking enthusiastically about and to the skaters during rehearsal.

“Dude, that was insane … please don’t do that again, I’m all stressed out,” Monahan said with a smile after Bradley finished a run-through of a program to Train’s “Christmas Island” that included his high-flying Bradley kick and a backflip.

After Meissner finished her runthrough to Train’s “Christmas Must Be Tonight,” Monahan said softly, “That was beautiful,” then he informed Weiss that he had grabbed the brass ring in getting to skate to Train’s cover of the Joni Mitchell hit “River” -- “Joni writes crazy bright songs,” he noted.

He capped it with an aside when Boitano, Davis and White finished a lovely segment in the finale, to Train’s “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” and the guys put their arms around Davis for some bows.

“You guys should think about doing this for a living … seriously,” Monahan deadpanned.

Rehearsal also included some voice-over intros that never made the live show, as Weiss and Kristi Yamaguchi, the hosts for the show, had some fun with several of the intros, most especially for Davis and White (“Meryl Davis and … Tanith Belbin’s husband!”) and Boitano (“He’s 28 years removed from winning Olympic gold … that’s a looooonnng time agoooooo … but he’s stttiiiiilllll out there skating … please welcome -- Fabricio!”).

Skaters and band had fun in the show, too, although the asides and jokes were not evident (well, Monahan did get in one in after the band was introduced, as he noted, “We can’t skate, in case you’re wondering.”

The opening was to Train’s “This Christmas,” with all the skaters getting their turn in the spotlight, and side-by-side lifts by Leonova and Khvalko and Denney and Coughlan drawing a big cheer -- pair teams haven’t been seen much in shows over the past few years, and the audience was clearly ready to see some pair skating.

Bradley, Meissner and Weiss opened the show with solo performances to Train, with Meissner especially impressive with a triple loop, triple Salchow and a couple of double Axels./p>

“I’ve been working really hard to get (the jumps) back,” said Meissner, who has also been working hard in school. She finished her studies in journalism/writing and is now working on a new major in physical therapy. “I love to write, so I’m going to make sure I do some writing, but I also really like PT, so I’m going to get a degree in that, too.”

When Train retired from the stage until the second half, Czisny offered an ethereal performance to “Clare de Lune,” that didn’t include any jumps but was full of spins, spirals, Bauers and the like that charmed the audience. Eldredge performed to an upbeat “Jingle Bells” (Brian Setzer), getting particular cheers for his spins, and Leonova and Khvalko enthralled the audience to “Nella Fantazia.” Denney and Coughlan presented a powerful program to Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo,” including an impressive triple twist.

Davis and White were light and airy and oh-so-dancy to “Merry Little Christmas” (Michael Buble), showing off their seamless skating to the highly appreciative audience. Boitano wrapped up the first half. It may have been 28 years since his Olympic gold medal performance, but he can still wow a crowd. In this case, he mesmerized the audience to Josh Groban’s powerful yet reverent “Silent Night.” Utilizing a lantern in a darkened arena for part of the program, Boitano used his gorgeous edges, speed and explosive double Axels and split jumps to leave the audience quietly sighing before breaking into a loud ovation when he finished.

The second act featured Czisny to Jim Brickman’s “Starbright,” another elegant program, and Eldredge to another version of “Silent Night,” this from Pentatonix. Leonova and Khvalko provided some comic relief to the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York,” with some great Irish dancing and just an overall fun performance.

“We were looking for something a little different, we could have fun with,” said Leonova of the program that was a crowd favorite. “This was something that worked well for us.”

The Russian duo was accompanied by their two daughters (it’s almost impossible to believe the limber and flexible Leonova could be the mother of two) and said they keep busy, and would be returning to Russia in a few days for a series of Christmas shows.

Bradley followed to Buble’s “Christmas Baby Come Home,” and Meissner was elegantly beautiful to “Ave Maria.” Weiss performed to the upbeat “Run, Run Rudolph.”

Then it was time for Train to return to the stage, and Denney and Coughlan offered another exhibition of big tricks and power to “Oh Holy Night.” Boitano was engagingly funky to “Shake Up Christmas,” and Davis and White were smooth and seamless to “What Christmas Means To Me.”

The finale saw each skater again get a moment in the spotlight to Train’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and the crowd rose to its feet for one last ovation for the cast. A few quick retakes -- there was little to re-do, as the show had been very clean -- and Train’s last song meant the end of the show, but a nice beginning to the holiday season.