Stars on Ice hits 25
Unemployed at 28, Scott Hamilton needed a place to work.
||January 20, 2011|
So he created one.
Hamilton's Stars on Ice celebrates its 25th anniversary this year
with, what else, a 25-city tour. Hamilton, who retired from regularly
performing in 2001 after a series of health issues, remains the
producer of what he calls "such a wild adventure."
"Just putting the shows together at first, at times it seems like
yesterday, at times it seems like four lifetimes ago," says the 1984
Olympic champion and, for years, figure skating's primary TV
voice. "To see we have endured and the tour has survived over the
years — at times thrived — and to kind of be in awe of all the skaters
that came through it, it's way beyond anything I would have dreamt or
The current 11-member cast includes Vancouver Olympics gold medalist
Evan Lysacek and bronze winner Joannie Rochette; Turin Games silver
medalists Sasha Cohen, Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto; and Jamie Sale
and David Pelletier, co-winners of the pairs gold in Salt Lake
City. Returning to join regulars Todd Eldredge and Michael Weiss for
the anniversary shows are Ekaterina Gordeeva, who won gold in 1988 and
1994 in pairs with husband Sergei Grinkov; and four-time world
champion Kurt Browning, probably the most popular tour skater aside
from, well, Hamilton.
It's an impressive group that adds to a Who's Who collection through a
quarter century of touring America, Canada and Asia. From the humble
beginnings of 1986, when Hamilton and Rosalynn Sumners headlined shows
in small college arenas, to sold-out performances at Madison Square
Garden featuring Torvill and Dean, Kristi Yamaguchi, Katarina Witt,
Brian Orser, Tara Lipinski, Alexei Yagudin, Ilia Kulik, Sarah Hughes,
Paul Wylie and Dorothy Hamill, Stars on Ice has sought to be
innovative, challenging and fun.
Lysacek, who first saw the show in 1992, two years before he began
skating, believes Hamilton's creation has had a profound effect on his
"I was aware Scott had developed the idea, nurtured it and really
revolutionized what show skating was," Lysacek says.
"The type of skating in Stars On Ice has changed the sport, added
something. The reason being sort of the disappearance of professional
skating on both the competitive and show level. Stars on Ice has
become the only place for the opportunity to explore, be creative and
grow as an artist and as an athlete."
Where Stars on Ice has been trendsetting is in the use of ensemble
numbers. Most other tours either have a theme built around characters,
such as Disney on Ice, or simply are exhibitions in which skaters
perform one or tour routines and are done for the night, a format used
by Champions on Ice until it folded in 2008.
Hamilton wanted something else. He had been on Ice Capades and seen
Ice Follies, the traditional shows, but he envisioned the skaters
being artists, entertainers and athletes in a different
"The idea was that one skater trying to carry a show would probably
not have the endurance to sustain a career to make a tour work,"
Hamilton says. "But the idea of an ensemble with many skaters, from
the Olympics, great, entertaining skaters, could provide a memorable
evening for an audience."
The group numbers in which all the skaters partake are unique to
Stars. Yamaguchi knows the skaters anticipate each year what those
ensemble routines will be, and believes the audiences do, too.
"Skaters are used to being individuals on the ice," the 1992 Olympic
champion says, "but to interact with a large group or act out certain
roles was different and a challenge for all of us. It was something
most of the skaters looked forward to and were able to grasp how much
the audiences enjoyed them and wanted to see what we came up with
Adds Browning: "The group numbers become entities that live forever
with the cast and the audience."
Hamilton and his manager, Bob Kain, used their numerous contacts
throughout skating to get the tour rolling. Kain even came up with the
Quickly, Stars on Ice became a place Olympic-eligible skaters turned
to when they were ready to leave competition. By 1990, the tour's
fifth season, Hamilton and Sumners were joined by Debi Thomas, Kitty
and Peter Carruthers and Orser.
Three years later in what co-producer Byron Allen calls "taking it to
a new level," Yamaguchi, Wylie, Gordeeva and Grinkov were
"When Kristi joined the tour, it really took off," Allen says. "Roz
and Debi were wonderful stars in their own right, great skaters and
show women, but Kristi took it to a new level. She has such grace and
exudes such class.
"With Scott as the veteran and creative guy and the backbone, then we
had this lovely young woman who had the world at her feet ... it just
doesn't get any better than that."
At times, though, things got worse.
Canada's Rob McCall, a former cast member, died of AIDS in
1991. Tragedy struck the tour again in 1995 when at November
rehearsals in Lake Placid, Grinkov died on the ice of a massive heart
attack. He was 28, and he and Gordeeva had a 3-year-old
"It happened in front of everyone and everyone saw it and felt it,"
Gordeeva says. "And I even felt terrible because everyone went through
the pain, sudden and terrible pain, when this thing happened with
"I am very thankful for them and their support to me for the
dedications they did for Sergei; every day on the show they did a
small pause for Sergei. It was right in a number and that was very
In 1997, Hamilton was diagnosed with testicular cancer. He was back on
the next tour, but later had a brain after retiring from regular
performances. He beat that affliction, too.
"What brought us all a little closer and is still part of the bond
today is that we went through that," says Sumners, who never missed a
show in her 13 years with Stars on Ice. "We all held Katia and Scott
up with what they went through.
"They did not just have the support of us on Stars on Ice, but the
entire country, and that was incredibly amazing. That's how close the
audience had gotten to us through Stars."
Hamilton realized that bond couldn't be forged — and a tour that some
years crisscrossed the country for 60 shows couldn't have existed —
without sponsors footing the bills. Discover Card was first aboard,
followed by Target and, since 2003, Smucker's.
"We had an owner in International Management Group and they really
wanted it to be successful, but you need the financial support and we
knew title sponsorship was necessary to even get off the ground,"
Along with Discover Card's involvement came a charity affiliation with
the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Target's charity was Target House at
St. Jude's Children's Hospital, and Smucker's brought along the Boys
and Girls Clubs of America and their literacy programs.
"Most of these kids have never seen anything like Stars on Ice, not
even on TV, or done anything like that," six-time U.S. champion
Eldredge says. "Who knows, some kid in, say, Columbus, Ohio, ends up
being a skater someday just because we went there and met him or her
and they got interested in skating because we were there."
Twenty-five years later, Stars on Ice is still there. With, Hamilton,
hopes, another 25 years ahead.
"Stars on Ice was brave enough in its inception to chart new ground,"
he says. "Now that we have hit this milestone, once we get past
patting ourselves on the back and thanking the audience, we should
look at new elements of the show. That's what we've always been about
and what we always want to be about."
AP National Writer Nancy Armour in Chicago contributed to this