Kurt Browning was Eric Radford’s idol when the newly crowned world pairs skating champion was growing up.
The 30-year-old skater from northern Ontario remembers watching on TV as Browning, a four-time world champion, skated to Brick House.
On Friday at Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Radford will reprise the choreography of the iconic program as he joins Browning and the rest of the men in the cast of 12 for a crowd-pleasing, rhythm-filled performance “that makes you want to dance” for the 25th anniversary of Stars on Ice.
The star-studded event features three-time world champion Patrick Chan, 2015 world champions Radford and Meagan Duhamel, 2010 Olympic gold medallist ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, world silver medallist ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, 2010 Olympic bronze medallist Joannie Rochette, 2008 world champion Jeffrey Buttle, three-time U.S. champion Ashley Wagner and Canadian silver medallist Shawn Sawyer.
It will be a look back and a look to the future, promises Browning, also the show’s director and choreographer, speaking by phone from Minden, Ont., where the cast had an extra week of rehearsal time for the show that kicks off a 12-date cross-country tour in Halifax.
“In the first half, there will be vignettes, voice-overs — lot of memories for skating fans,” he promises, noting those who come early can watch screens showing Stars on Ice programs from years past.
Browning will also recreate a solo skated by Stars on Ice founder Scott Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic gold medallist Browning describes as a big influence on his footwork and attempts at comedy.
The program, choreographed by Sandra Bezic and skated to One For My Baby, “a beautiful song by Frank Sinatra,” is for an older skater who has nothing left to prove, says the 48-year-old, who has no idea when he’ll retire.
The second half includes the four-time Canadian champ’s labour of love, a 20-minute story-driven group number.
“We’re not skating matching steps, but portraying characters. We have props and a storyline. … It’s like a play,” says Browning, who created the number with dancer-singer-actor Geoff Tyler and input from National Ballet of Canada dancer Sonia Rodriguez, Browning’s wife and an expert in telling “stories without words.”
The number is set in a company — Automatic Aviation Automated — that has a ’50s feel and makes flying machines, he says, noting 3A is the symbol for triple Axels.
But the workers are not happy.
“Working with Tess, she creates so much emotion, that part of the story is hard to watch,” says Browning, who plays a tramp.
The number is set to the music of Supertramp, who played the first concert the Caroline, Alta., native attended.
Radford, who portrays a draftsman, says putting together the story was organic, “like free verse, with us all bouncing ideas off each other that take shape slowly,” rather than the more traditional finalizing steps and patterns and getting exact timing.
“It’s so much fun to add a character dimension rather than being all about showmanship and steps. It’s really nice to think about how my face looks instead of how my edges are.”
Winning worlds in March was “unforgettable” for the skater who won every international competition he entered this season with partner of five years Duhamel.
He and Duhamel, who worked hard to add a throw quadruple Salchow jump to their repertoire, will miss this year’s short and long programs that were like “comfortable slippers” as they move forward with new goals like the 2018 Olympics, he says.
No longer a newbie on the tour — he and Duhamel are skating in their third Stars on Ice — Radford knows how to pace himself.
He and Duhamel will also skate to One by U2 and Mary J. Blige as a tribute to past Canadian world pairs champions.
Browning will skate a solo to Robbie Williams’s Let Me Entertain You that will showcase his footwork and speed and have a trick ending.
When he thinks of 25 years on tour, he doesn’t remember individual performances as much as overall feelings.
One stand-out group number choreographed by Bezic was a “brilliantly crafted” comedy about the Olympics.
“My character had to compete and skate really well. The joke didn’t work unless I did a triple Axel. We did 75 shows that year, and I landed 68 or 69 triple Axels. And I had to sit on a bench in centre ice for 15 minutes waiting while the comedy ensued around me. It was a tough test, but I love a challenge.”
And Halifax has a special place in his heart.
“Halifax has the record for the most standing ovations: 16. I won worlds in Halifax. It’s like a homecoming because we always rehearse in Halifax.”