By Misha Berson 
Seattle Times theater critic

(This Seattle Times review which was posted on February 26, 2012 gives Canadian Stars on Ice fans a preview of what to expect when Investor’s Group Stars on Ice presented by Lindt opens its 12-city tour in Halifax, NS on April 27, 2012.)

Choreographer/director and champion skater Kurt Browning got the most out of his star-studded cast in the 2012 version of Stars on Ice, which traveled to Seattle on Saturday night.

Kurt Browning's legion of local admirers can tell you what a great skater he is. But this Browning fan had no idea, before attending the 2012 Stars on Ice extravaganza Saturday night at KeyArena, what a swell choreographer-director he is.

Browning whipped up this year's edition of the annual tour of figure skating and ice-dancing champs into one of the sleekest, smoothest shows in years for the franchise.

Instead of the usual canned jokes and the variable slapstick clowning, Browning has imaginatively mined the strengths of his glittering cast — including Olympic favorites Ilia Kulik, Sasha Cohen and Ekaterina Gordeeva, and 2011 U.S. champion Ryan Bradley — with fresh, creative routines well-matched to a vibrant score of pop tunes.

The opening program began with a vivacious Gordeeva vamping and gliding to Captain & Tennille's cheese-tastic "Love Will Keep us Together." And it heated up with Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman's blazing rip through Imelda May's "Johnny Got a Boom Boom."

It's been a decade since Ina and Zimmerman won an Olympic bronze medal, but their thrillingly gymnastic pairing still thrills and is one of the show's highlights — also displayed in a romp to Rascal Flatts, packed with the pair's customary awe-inspiring, one-handed lifts.

Also showcased is the supple prowess and spicy personality of Cohen in two routines that suited her perfectly, including one to a haunting tune from the Buena Vista Social Club.

Kulik (a solo skater married to Gordeeva) always brings it, and delights in shaking up and modernizing his moves. One impressive new move here is a leaping kick-turn used repeatedly in the show, to great effect. And if his sparkly sleeveless-hoodie get-up in the "Love in This Club" number looked kitschy, Kulik's ice variation to Usher was stunning.

There's nice work, too, from Canadian champion Joannie Rochette.

Bradley is a handsome fellow, with beautiful triple jumps, breathtaking back flips and some intricate fast-footing in his "Footloose" routine. Like Sinead and John Kerr, the Scottish brother-sister European champs, he is new to Stars on Ice and while technically strong doesn't exhibit the all-out, showbiz flair that comes with more ice show experience.

Such crowd-pleasing flair is second nature now to the two senior members of the cast, who remind us that great skating doesn't end at age 40. The choreography for Todd Eldredge, in his pleasing numbers from "Hello Dolly" and Lonestar, emphasizes his comic gifts and unflashy warmth.

And along with getting the best out of his colleagues, Browning is in excellent skating form himself, with an elegant rendition of "Feeling Good" (to Adam Lambert's cover), and a delightfully whimsical skate to the ubiquitous Jason Mraz hit, "I'm Yours."

Finally, I can't remember a recent Stars on Ice group number as satisfying as the first-act closer to Adele's "Rolling in the Deep." The drama and momentum of the song is fully realized in the power lifts, solo takeouts and ensemble surges of the choreography. Thanks again, Mr. Browning — and keep it up.