Sophisticated humor gives Boitano's routine a new edge

December 05, 1990|By Susan Reimer

What is Brian Boitano up to these days?

Funny you should ask.

Make that, funny you should see.

The young man whose charisma and athleticism won him a gold medal at the 1988 Winter Olympics is changing. He still cuts that Errol Flynn figure on the ice.

But he's also getting funnier.

Not guffaw funny. You won't be slapping your knee at baggy clown pants or pratfalls on the ice.

Boitano's humor is in character: elusive, sophisticated, slightly self-deprecating. It is just the kind of humor you would expect from Boitano. It is just that you don't expect humor from him.

"The place I am best is 'The Carousel Waltz,' " said Boitano in an interview after his appearance in Baltimore in Skating II, the second incarnation of his sophisticated ice show. He was speaking of the song from "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue," its melancholy tone and its Broadway style, to which he skates solo in the show.

"I love that, and that's who I am. And that is how the public sees me."

But also part of that show -- and part of Boitano's upcoming performance in the World Professional Figure Skating Championships Saturday at the Capital Centre -- is "Big Man on Mulberry Street" from Billy Joel's album "The Bridge." In it, he gently pokes fun at the flip side of his love-sick swashbuckler -- the self-involved lady-killer.

"Something like 'Mulberry Street' really challenges," said Boitano. "Me as a light-hearted, joking character? That's not how the public sees me.

"I've been really deep and very heavy and very strong. And I wanted to break more into something light-hearted. The audiences seem to like 'Mulberry Street,' and that gives me a lot of satisfaction.

"I am the ultimate risk-taker, but I am smart enough to know not to go too far. You never want to take giant steps."

Boitano may well be taking very few steps -- giant or otherwise -- in advance of his third appearance at the World Pro. He has won it twice, and it carries a $40,000 first prize.

"The World Pro is everything I point toward," said a young man still so competitive that he broods about the fact that professionals are not allowed, as they are in other sports, to return to the Olympics.

He is recovering from a flare-up of tendinitis in his hip that forced him to postpone the Nov. 25 Miami stop on his 25-city tour of Skating II until February.

The tendinitis resulted from three weeks of eight-hour days spent rehearsing choreographer Sandra Bezic's hip, sophisticated and very athletic show before its opening in Portland, Maine, on Nov. 18.

There are no stuffed animals on skates in this show, no children's matinees. It is more like Martha Graham-on-ice than Sesame Street-on-ice. And there is no Top-40 funky stuff, either. Just a thinking fan's blend of classical music and jazz.

Boitano shares top billing in that show with Katarina Witt, who won the ladies figure skating gold medal for the second time, in 1988, when she represented what was then East Germany and who has been his leading lady, on the ice only, since.

Witt will not be competing in the World Pro, in which 1988 Olympic bronze medalist Debi Thomas will try to defend her title against, among others, Elizabeth Manley, the Canadian skater who upset Thomas for the silver medal in Calgary, Alberta.

But Gary Beacom, one of the 12 skaters who share the marquee with Boitano and Witt in Skating II, will be in Landover. And it is his sense of humor, which swings from Roaring-Twenties-bathtub-gin-raucous to performance-art-shtick, to which the newly light-hearted Boitano will be compared by the World Pro judges.

"I don't have any ego problem with Gary. If I did, he wouldn't be in the show," Boitano says, laughing. "I can't do what he does. And I'd like to think he can't do what I do."

In his all-important technical performance for the World Pro, Boitano again will break new ground and, he hopes, no limbs.

Last year, it was a triple jump out of his signature spread eagle -- a little like having someone yank your arm just before you take off into a something that requires speed and momentum.

And this year? "This time it is a spread eagle into a triple Axel," he said. "That scares me the most. And I'm doing a double triple -- a triple flip and a triple toe -- plus a triple loop. All the same && ones I did at the Olympics."

That, as much as the skating tights and the melodrama, characterizes Boitano. He is not content to let people remember how good he was in 1988. He wants to show them how much better he has become.

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