Boston Ballet’s Nutcracker – An Experience Not To be Missed (5 Stars)

The Nutcracker – Music by Peter Illyich Tchaikovsky; Choreography by Mikko Nissinen; Set & Costume Design by Robert Perdziola; Conductor: Jonathan McPhee. Present by the Boston Ballet at The Boston Opera House, Boston through 12/29.

As a lifelong Bostonian who has observed most of the city’s traditions at one time or another – the Fourth of July Fireworks at the Hatch Shell, the Boston Marathon at viewing points from Heartbreak Hill to the Pru, crying into my beer after another Red Sox playoff debacle (prior to 2004, of course) – it is almost sad to say that I had never been to the Nutcracker. As a middle of the pack Baby Boomer, that’s a lot of holiday seasons gone by without experiencing one of the truly great holiday rituals the city has to offer. But I’m happy to report that after rectifying the situation at a matinee performance this past weekend, I saw firsthand why this production is a staple in many household’s holiday season plans.

If you’ve never gone and are reluctant to go because you don’t know anything about ballet or think that you’ll be bored, you can lose that notion. Skipping the Nutcracker because you don’t think you’ll like ballet is like not having sex because you have no interest in biology. And while I may not be qualified to comment on the skill level of the individual dancers or the choreography, I can tell you that this is an experience that should not be missed.

The greatest testament to how mesmerizing the production is was evidenced by the fact that I was at a matinee with an army of small kids, and unless they were handing out extra-strength Ritalin at the door, the youngsters were totally transfixed by what they saw on stage. And with good reason. With a beautiful and powerful Tchaikovsky score, herds of costumed mice, rabbits, bears and toy soldiers, Disney productions have got nothing on the Nutcracker. Which isn’t to say its not good for big kids as well, as I found myself laughing out loud at the cartoonish battle between the mice and soldiers in the first act and mesmerized by the skill and beauty of the dancers (particularly in the second act). But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The show opens with a lively Christmas street scene in 1820’s Germany with peddlers doling out roasted chestnuts to the children while the overture plays. We meet Clara (the adorable Eliza French), the show’s central character, who stands with the other children while Drosselmeier (Sabi Varga), the town’s magician, performs his magical feats (and reveals the wooden soldier Nutcracker for the first time). Later that evening, Clara’s parents are throwing a Christmas party at the house, when Drosselmeier (who is Clara’s uncle) shows up and delights the children with two life sized toys that come to life and dance – a Harlequin (Ricardo Santos) and a Ballerina doll (Ji Young Chae) as well as a dancing bear. This is where the fantastical part of the show begins and where the show really began to kick into a high gear for me.

After the party ends, Clara sneaks down stairs to see her new favorite toy, who will soon come to life as the Nutcracker Prince (John Lam). After doing battle with an army of mice (one of many standout scenes in the show),  they set off together on a journey through the Magical Forest. They meet the Snow King and Queen and watch the dancing Snowflakes perform (another first act highlight). Clara and the Nutcracker Prince then travel (via cloud of course) to the Nutcracker Prince’s Kingdom. In the second act, a series of dancers from around the world perform for them in short and varied vignettes, and this a real treat as the flavor of the individual cultures (Spanish, Arabian Chinese,Russian) inform the dance. The costumes in the pieces are brilliant as well. There are many other stunning numbers in the second act, including the highly recognizable (both dance and music) Waltz of the Flowers. And the dancing by the leads throughout is superb.

You really don’t have to know anything about ballet to enjoy this awesome spectacle, and it is a real treat to watch such talented professionals practice their craft. If you’ve never been before,  I implore you to go. In other words, don’t do what I did. I have to admit,  The Nutcracker IS all it’s cracked up to be. For more info go to: