By Mike LaBella
---- — Suzan Kritzas hoped she’d get to meet hometown celebrity Tom Bergeron while attending a live showing of the television show “Dancing With the Stars.’’
She had a good seat, close to the stage, and before she knew it Bergeron was standing just a few feet away, saying hello to a celebrity in the audience.
For Kritzas, is was time to seize the opportunity to meet Bergeron, the show’s popular co-host and a Haverhill native.
“Sherri Shepherd from ‘The View’ was sitting across from us and Julia Roberts’ brother was sitting next to her and before the show started Tom went up to Sherri to talk to her,” Kritzas said. “I was on the end of the row and got up, walked over to him and said, ‘Hi Tom, I’m from Haverhill.’
“I asked if he remembered by brother Johnny Karageorge and how he and Johnny used to fight about who was going to do the morning announcements at Haverhill High, and he smiled,” she said, recounting when he attended the hometown high school decades earlier. “Then I pointed to my row and said, ‘Haverhill is sitting right here and we came to see you.’ He walked up the two stairs and shook hands with everybody.”
Kritzas, a multi-media artist, mother and grandmother, said it was a trip she will never forget.
Last month, she traveled to California with her fiance, Dimitrios Zaralidis, to visit friends and family members. They managed to get tickets to “Dancing With the Stars’’ from Zaralidis’ nephew, who has ties to the show. Kritzas invited her friend, Haverhill native Denise Apostolou, and also got a ticket for her.
But instead of tickets for just one night, they got tickets to both the March 25 and 26 showings of the popular dance competition where celebrities pair up with professional dancers.
”It was pretty special as we got to go for two nights,” Kritzas said. “We were lucky.
”I’ve been watching the show since day one,” she said. “I love it because it’s real and you have all of these young people who try so hard to put on a perfect performance. It’s refreshing to see young people in a competition working so hard to put on a good, wholesome family show.”
Kritzas recalled her high school years when she participated in ballroom dance events and got to represent her Haverhill High School class on a televised dance show called “Boston Ballroom.’’
”I’ve always loved dancing, all kinds of dancing,” she said.
Kritzas and her group went to the ABC studio in Hollywood where “Dancing With the Stars’’ is performed.
”What was really interesting was the high security and dress code,” she said. “They won’t allow you to wear jeans, you’re not allowed to bring in cell phones or iPhones and you can’t take any pictures.
”And you can only bring in a small purse,” she said. “They check you just like you’re at the airport.
”I was really impressed with how organized everything was,” she said. “They had our names taped to our chairs and they warmed up the audience before Tom Bergeron came out. A man told us that when Tom comes out we want you to give him your loudest scream, your best smiles and applause, and he said the camera will be filming the audience.”
When the show started, the lights dimmed, the music began to play and the spotlights were turned on, Kritzas said.
”The cameramen were literally running around the dancers with their cameras,” she said. “When you go to a show, the props and the stage are usually behind the curtain. In this show, they do everything live with many people running across the floor with props and setting up the lighting. It’s really something to see.”
Kritzas said what really stood out for her was how thin the professional dancers appeared.
”The girls must weigh 80 pounds, but on TV they look just right,” she said.
”It’s a lot like watching it on TV, only in between when there’s a station break the stage hands set up the next scenes,” she said. “Tom might be in the balcony talking to someone, and they flash it on a big screen so you can see him.”
Everywhere Kritzas looked, there were celebrities in the audience.
”On the second night, Jennifer Lopez came down these beautifully lit stairs and did a duet with Andrea Bocelli that made you want to cry,” she said. “It was really superb.”
After the filming ended, Kritzas got to meet some of the dancers, including Tony Dovolani, Derek Hough and Cheryl Burke.
”Derek is the top dancer and comes up with the most unique choreography,” Kritzas said. “I asked him where his inspiration comes from, and he said he really didn’t know then smiled and thanked me. The dancers were very unpretentious, very grounded and very humble, and that was kind of surprising to me.’’
As she and her group were leaving the studio, they ran into Bergeron, who was on his way out as well.
”I told him, ‘Haverhill is here two nights for you and we have to take a picture together,’’’ she said. “And we did.’’