She may no longer be the headliner - that's the guy with the recently minted Olympic gold medal - but Sasha Cohen still commands attention every time she glides out on the ice.
From her supple spirals and dizzying spins to her fiery intensity and porcelain doll beauty, the 2006 U.S. figure skating champion and Olympic silver medalist leaves no doubt that she's the leading lady of the Smucker's Stars on Ice national tour, which comes to Washington's Verizon Center this Thursday.
Evan Lysacek, who became the first American man to win the gold medal since Brian Boitano in 1988, will perform in D.C. and more than half of the 40 shows that don't conflict with his appearance in this year's edition of "Dancing With the Stars."
Despite Lysacek's top billing, Cohen carries a heavy workload, skating seven numbers in every show, including two solos and a duet with 2009 national champion Alissa Czisny.
"I've been really busy getting back into show rhythm," said Cohen in a telephone interview.
That means getting comfortable with different musical styles, coordinating her skate steps with other performers, speeding through dress changes and shouldering "heavily beaded costumes" that aren't as giving or forgiving as competition dresses.
Longtime producer Byron Allen says the challenge this year has been to incorporate newcomers Jeremy Abbott and the Olympic silver medal ice dance team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White into the cast of veterans. All three skaters joined the troupe this week after competing at the world championships in Turin, Italy. (Davis and White were runners-up, and Abbott, a two-time U.S. champion, finished fifth).
"They're getting a crash course in Smucker's Stars on Ice 101," Allen said.
That makes the core cast of Todd Eldredge, Yuka Sato, Michael Weiss and Cohen vital to the show's success, he said.
"They're the glue. They hold it together. They're the reminder that the whole is greater than the parts," he said.
Cohen tried to restart her competitive career last year with an eye toward making the U.S. Olympic team going to Vancouver. But after more than three years away from the Grand Prix circuit and the national championships, Cohen hit numerous physical setbacks that cut into her preparation time.
"A year ago, I was in a much better place than I was six months ago," she said of her injuries. "I was really very frustrated. It put me behind. But the road isn't always the way you want it to be."
At the nationals in January, where two women were selected for the Olympic team, Cohen showed flashes of her old self in the short program while placing second. But her comeback came to an end in a mistake-filled long program that left her in fourth place.
Cohen, 25, hasn't ruled out a return to competition or the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. She has new coaches and choreographers, and after the tour, she'll start training again.
"I'll see. I don't feel quite done yet," she said. "I still want to explore that avenue."
While not exactly a rink rat, Cohen said she derives great pleasure from working out on the ice.
"It's about the process. It gives me a purpose and a place to be. It's the feeling of reward I get after putting in a really good day's work," she said.
After the disappointment at nationals, Cohen took only a short break for a vacation in Morocco before she started getting in show shape.
She'll need it. Like the barnstorming vaudevillians before them, Stars on Ice skaters travel by bus from city to city for five shows every week. They finish a show and board the bus for dinner and a movie before curling up and powering down.
"It's nice to put on your sweats or pajamas, get caught up on e-mail, listen to music or talk on the phone with your friends," Cohen said. "You learn to sleep when you can and take your downtime on the bus."
As the bus pulls into the next town and the sun rises, so do the Stars, ready for another day at the Ice factory.