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Kurt Browning's Gotta Skate

by Dorothy Knoell

For Kurt Browning, his third Gotta Skate show was a labor of love - so it was Browning emerging from the nightclub doors to get the night going, welcoming the crowd and bringing out the cast, dressed in warmup togs, to skate around for a few minutes and be introduced as themselves, because "this is the last time all night you'll see them as themselves - after this, they'll be characters." Browning has a good rapport with the Canadian fans and had something interesting, and usually amusing, to say about each skater. He reminded the audience that Eldredge was a world champion "who won his title right here in Canada," noted that former Chinese-Tapai champion David Liu, who used to compete against him, was "a three-time Olympic team members - which, coincidentally, so am I.," and that in the case of Bourne and Kraatz, "10 Canadian titles add up to one world title!" (Recently the dance team announced their end of their 13-year skating partnership. Bourne & Kraatz will honor their touring commitments through December but will part ways in 2004. Bourne is working with boyfriend Nikolai Morozov as a skating coach and choreographer. Kraatz is still mulling over his options.)As Boitano skated around, he told the crowd that he'd done them a big favor, making a phone call that brought the Olympic champ to Canada for the first time in six or seven years, "and he also came up two days early so we could work on our duet that you'll see later, which I've always wanted to do."

Browning disappeared with the rest of the cast, and after some quick changes, Bourne and Kraatz came out to get the nightclub ready, Browning was back with the microphone to welcome everyone to party night at Chez Shae's, introducing Eldredge as Big Daddy (the bouncer) and then letting him check off each guest (and throw out one uninvited party crasher) as they entered the nightclub, mostly dressed in 40s-type outfits to fit Buble's Sinatra/Torme crooner style. That led into a sprightly opening number to "It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," with lively group choreography that spotlighted the three couples.Kraatz then managed to get "Shy Single Girl" (Robinson) out on the ice for a performance to get the party started. Robinson performed her short program for this season, "Tangosain/Welcome To Cuba," receiving encouragement from the other "guests" (cast members, along with a few members of the National Ballet of Canada serving as "extras," sat on the set off and on during the show and interacted with performers coming on and off the ice, while Browning's sister-in-law played the bartender) and a lot of support from the audience as she nailed a triple Lutz and double Axel, having trouble only on the triple flip."This is my first Gotta Skate, and it's very exciting for me to be included in the show," said Robinson, the only eligible skater in the show. "Being in a professional show is something I think all amateurs should be able to do, it's so helpful, you learn a lot. Plus, the lights and the short ice are a fantastic way to simulate the nerves of performance, so it will benefit me in training, too."After a short glitch trying to decide what came next ("Did you ever have one of those moments?" Browning asked the crowd wryly as Foster was finally ushered into the bar to introduce his protégée, Buble), the party went on with Buble singing "Sway" as Bourne and Kraatz showed why they had been introduced as "the best dancers in town" with a high-energy performance. Eldredge then doffed his "Big Daddy" long leather coat and did a turn to "Transition," wowing the crowd with a triple Axel, triple Lutz, triple toe, several footwork sequences and his usual impressive spins. This number didn't seem to illustrate his character, but was an impressive piece of skating nonetheless.As Eldredge left the ice, he was approached by Meno, who hopefully offered him a rose, which he refused. She finally settled for an enthusiastic, if somewhat nerdy, Sand and they went on to perform their popular "I'm Your Man"program, which did its job to introduce them as a couple on the blind date. The program was charmingly done and marred only briefly by an unfortunate spill on a throw double axel. Brasseur and Eisler followed with Garth Brooks' "You've Always Been A Friend To Me," setting up their "been together forever" characters, which was also cleanly done other than a mishap on a spin.Then a short break in the action as a small platform was carried onto the ice and Brasseur escorted Buble out to it. Buble then sang an upbeat version of "Summer Wind" as Boitano performed. Although it didn't really establish his "cool, tough" character, it was a good performance with Tano triple Lutz, triple Salchow (with a hop off the landing) and triple toe, along with nice interaction with Buble as he zipped around the platform several times, ending with an emphatic hockey stop to spray the singer from head-to-toe with ice as the performance ended.As the platform was removed and Buble made his way to the bar set, Foster gave the audience a bit of background on the next song coming up, "Moondance," which Buble sang live for Browning's performance. As usual for Party Guy, his performance included clever footwork and lots of personality, with a triple toe and triple Salchow thrown in.

The party then took a 20-minute break for an ice make.The second half started with Robinson entering, shadowed by the "artsy guy" Liu ("Art students are always fun at a party," Browning had noted in the intro), who favored the shy single girl with some intense glances before heading out for his one, indeed very "artsy" solo program. "It's been a long time since I've performed in a show like this," Liu said. "It's exciting for me, I've got a lot of nervous energy."Liu's program, to "El Duentde," was mesmerizing, filled with wonderful shapes, fluid dance movement and incredible extension. He performed only one jump, a single axel, but performed so many fantastic leaps that he needed nothing more in the jump department. That performance didn't just affect the crowd, it also inspired the shy Robinson to a bit more confidence. She came back on the ice to perform to "Teach Me Tiger/One Mint Julep" in a sexy red dress. She did take a fall on a triple Lutz, but filled the program with fun personality and nice spins and footwork. That led into another sexy - albeit in good fun - number from Meno and Sand to Ray Charles' "Making Whoopie," with Sand starting out seated at the piano and Meno luring him onto the ice. That theme went one step further when Bourne and Kraatz followed with "Mac the Knife," a program very much featuring Bourne's "sexy" persona.The three red-clad ladies personified the next performance from Buble, who emerged from the nightclub doors on hockey skates, prompting a surprised cheer from the crowd. He glided down the ice, surrounded and teased by the three ladies, wrapping his velvet voice around the hypnotic beat of "Fever." Eldredge eventually joined the ensemble, flirting with Meno and Robinson as well as taking a solo turn on the ice to try to impress them before losing them to Buble.

After a set of programs that all connected well, Brasseur and Eisler's "In the Middle" seemed a bit on its own, but the audience didn't care as they had a chance to cheer all of that pair's well-known and best-loved tricks, from "fly high-say bye" to the "windmill" to a headbanger. That drew the first standing ovation of the night.Boitano sauntered on the ice after that to set himself up as the tough, cool guy to "Hernando's Hideaway," throwing in a triple flip-double toe and triple toe-double toe-double loop with ease and strutting disdainfully past Browning on his way back to the tables, something that didn't sit well with "Party Guy," and the two began an interaction that appeared sure to lead to some kind of showdown.Browning, afer showing off some in front of Boitano, strutted his stuff to "Swingin'," another footwork-filled personality piece that included a couple of double Axels to go along with triple toe and Salchow. When he finished to another standing ovation, there was more posing and posturing between the adversaries before "Big Daddy" stepped in to keep the peace. That led to Eldredge's second solo, a powerful outing to Garth Brooks' "When You Come Back To Me," which included another triple Axel. While again, it didn't seem to have anything to do with Eldredge's character, the commanding performance brought many in the audience to their feet.After Eldredge finished, there was no holding back the two antagonists. Browning got it started, reprising a segment of one of his early signature pieces, "Hey, Pachuko" kind of an in-your-face challenge to Boitano, who eventually rose from his chair and confronted Browning, leading into a truly delightful duet to "Topsey" that featured great characterizations from the two skaters, as well as fun choreography and a superb demonstration shadow skating from two guys with completely dissimilar styles. They circled each other warily, Boitano blowing smoke from his cigar in Browning's face, Browning retaliating by snatching Boitano's hat, Boitano managing to grab the hand with the hat in it and stub out the cigar in the hat. A quick footwork sequence followed, along with a humorous moment when Boitano "dipped" Browning in a dance hold, a sequence which highlighted their talents in doing spread eagles and side-by-side double Axels. After much sneering, posturing and trying to intimidate each other, they apparently came to the conclusion that each was cool in his own way, casually exchanged hats and ended up toasting each other at the bar, much to the delight of the audience.All that was left was for the entire group to close the party with a enthusiastic group outing to "Bills Bounce" before heading casually out the nightclub doors. But wait! The show wasn't over. Browning was quick to grab a microphone and bring Foster out to take a turn at the piano, and Foster cajoled Browning into singing the opening bars of "Piano Man" before Buble took over and the audience was encouraged to sing along. Retakes then took center stage, the highlight of which was that Boitano and Browning, who had been absolutely spot-on with everything in their duet in dress rehearsal, decided they were not satisfied with a few moments in the actual performance when they hadn't been in sync and with a scratchy landing on a double Axel, and so reprised most of their duet a couple of times, determined to get it perfect again. It took a few tries, but finally they were satisfied, as was the audience.(The show will be televised on NBC December 21, 2003.)