By Lynn Rutherford
Old and new friends nearly 7,000 miles apart gathered in Philadelphia the night before Christmas Eve to watch Johnny Weir headline the second annual Holiday Dreams on Ice, held at University of Pennsylvania’s Class of 1923 Arena.
The three-time U.S. champion and his parents, Patti and John, welcomed more than 60 well wishers from his hometown of Lancaster, PA, who bused into town especially for the show. The Pennsylvanians met 20 of Weir’s Japanese fans visiting from Tokyo for a long holiday weekend in New York and Philadelphia, capped by front-row seats for the performances and a post-event party.
“I’m excited about this show; they literally ran out of printed tickets,” Weir said. “It’s my first time performing in Pennsylvania, my home state, in forever. I’m thrilled so many old friends are here.”
Weir gained standing ovations for an outrageous routine to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” and his traditional holiday number “Ave Maria,” highlighted by special designs from Vincent DiGiorgio’s Digital Lighting, who created the Christmas lights for the White House this season.
The Philadelphia Gay Men’s Chorus kicked off the evening with a singing of “Sleigh Ride.” More than 100 young local skaters hit the ice to Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Former Israeli champion Tamar Katz, a student at Penn, skated to Adele’s “Someone Like You,” while 2010 U.S. silver medalist Brandon Mroz offered up two numbers: “Mack the Knife” and “Greased Lightening.”
Mroz is taking a short break from Colorado Springs to spend the holidays in his hometown of St. Louis.
“I can’t wait to see my grandmother,” he said.
Two-time U.S. bronze medalist Ashley Wagner shone in programs to Jessica Simpson’s “What Christmas Means to Me” and Jennifer Lopez’s “On the Floor.”
“I had the [“What Christmas Means to Me”] music before and I thought it was really cute,” she said. “I feel like a lot of Christmas stuff is kind of slow and I wanted something that was going to wake the audience up. I picked it a couple of years ago and then I just re-choreographed it [with Philip Mills]. I get bored with programs so if I have something new it’s much more fun to perform.”
Wagner took a short break from training under coaches John Nicks and Mills in California.
“I begged and pleaded Mr. Nicks, and then gave him no other option, but to let me go home for a week,” she said. “I am spending Christmas in Annapolis with my mom, my brother [Austin] and my boyfriend.”
“My dad is traveling right now for business, so it’s kind of a bummer not to have him home for the holidays, but I’m so excited to just slow down for a couple of days before getting back into training for nationals.”
Wagner, who hopes to win her first U.S. title next month at the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, isn’t letting her guard down over the holidays.
“After Christmas I am going up and spending the rest of the trip in Philly, so I am training at University of Delaware for the rest of the week,” she said.
Armin Mahbanoozadeh, who is spending a quiet holiday with his parents in Virginia, performed “Summertime,” then unveiled a new Christmas number he choreographed just for the show to Michael Buble’s “Cold December Night.”
“I put it together quickly and had fun with it,” he said. “I had a great time. We had a long day full of practices and rehearsals but it was a great experience, it was a great crowd. There were a lot of enthusiastic kids who are just getting into skating. So it’s nice to see if we can kind of encourage some of the new skaters.”
For pictures, courtesy of Michele Mansoor, click here.