The following review is based on the December 21st performance of the Long Beach Ballet’s “The Nutcracker.”
Excellence in art is most noteworthy when it is repeated in virtuoso fashion year after year. Doing something right one time, or even twice, might be chalked up to luck, but doing it consistently is worthy of the highest admiration. For the 36th consecutive year, the Long Beach Ballet is deserving of raves and acclaim for putting on another spectacular production of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach (through only December 23rd). Much of the credit goes to the Long Beach Ballet’s Artistic Director and co-founder, David Wilcox, who has heroically rebuffed the allure of complacency, and has instead been motivated to reach greater artistic heights compared to years past.
Featuring a marvelously meticulous set design by Elliott Hessayon, Rex Heuschkel, and Scott Shaffer, to go along with exquisitely surrealistic costumes by Adrian Clarke and team, pristine lighting by Jared Sayeg, and dazzling stage effects by Franz Harary and John Bordeaux, this is the definitive “Nutcracker.” Not to mention, with images that conjure the celestial, pastoral, regal, and the familial, this staging of the ballet is an enthralling affair perfect for the wintry season. With its lush yet cozy extravagance, the production is a prismatic journey into a wonderland of brilliant colors and sounds that elicit smiles and cheers, as well as a newfound appreciation for the time-honored classic. The full symphony orchestra, conducted impeccably by Dr. Roger Hickman, conveys the fullness of Tchaikovsky’s music, particularly the whimsy and effervescence associated with the eight famous numbers of “The Nutcracker Suite, Op. 71a.”
For the last 126 years, the two-act “The Nutcracker” began as the Russian composer’s last ballet (following “Swan Lake” and “Sleeping Beauty”), upon seeing its debut in December 1892, and ultimately capping off a career that has been favorably likened to other classical music greats. Tchaikovsky’s affinity for romanticism characterized much of his legacy with “The Nutcracker” perhaps being his best work despite his own self-exacting reservations about it. Choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov (with additional choreography by David Wilcox and Terri Lewis for the Long Beach Ballet’s version) and adapted from E.T.A. Hoffman’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” which in itself was inspired by Alexandre Dumas’ “The Story of a Nutcracker,” the holiday ballet has indisputably furthered its legend in 2018.
The narrative, which takes place on Christmas Eve at the festive home of Herr Stahlbaum, who is with his wife, children and their friends, transitions from reality to the realm of fantasy with impressive seamless precision. The spotlight is especially on Stahlbaum’s eldest child and daughter, Clara, who is paid a visit by her uncle and godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, an inventor and clockmaker. He brings over dolls, including a wooden Nutcracker, which is recklessly broken by Clara’s brother, Fritz. However, when the clock of midnight strikes, the Nutcracker becomes life-sized amid the trappings of Christmas which become more pronounced in their glorious splendor. Clara suddenly finds herself in the middle of a battle between the Nutcracker (and his soldiers) and the Mouse King (and his mouse army), whereupon she assists the former to victory with a piercing blow, enabling the Nutcracker to reclaim his princehood. Subsequently, the Nutcracker Prince introduces Clara to the Sugar Plum Fairy in The Land of Sweets, where confectionery delights (e.g., chocolate, coffee, candy canes) from around the globe are merrily celebrated via crowd-pleasing dances representing the Spanish, Chinese, Arabian, and the rip-roaring Russians.
The balletic movement on the Long Beach Terrace stage is as fluid and graceful as the eyes can decipher, effortless in its disposition, all the while beautifully tender and purposeful in its execution. Male and female performers, from small children to veteran adults, are coached exceedingly well by Ellen Bigelow (who also performs) and her colleagues. The show’s imaginativeness, bolstered by its inviting immersion as a result of a soaring sleigh, stunning pyrotechnics, falling snow, and a real-life horse, to only name a few, appeals to both children and adults alike, who can find a common bond upon experiencing the enduring masterpiece of “The Nutcracker.”
Some of the star performers include principal guest artists and married couple, Seth Orza and his wife Sarah Ricard Orza, who entrancingly depict the Nutcracker Prince and Sugar Plum Fairy, respectively; Evan Swenson and Hailey Pemberton as the magnificently elegant Snow King and Queen; Melissa Sandvig as the charmingly gracious Dew Fairy; Vera Fratovich as the brilliantly precocious Clara; Alfredo Garcia as her charismatically rambunctious stage brother, Fritz; and the underrated Dana Pugh, who is memorably comical as the Stahlbaum family maid who has a little too much fun.
Certainly, productions of “The Nutcracker” are endless around Christmastime. The Long Beach Ballet, however, led by the ceaseless passion and ingenuity of David Wilcox since 1978, has cultivated the ultimate rendition of “The Nutcracker” that heartily thrives off its prodigious cast of 200. It is a show that lovingly and artfully captures the legacy of Tchaikovsky and his collaborators, blending spectacle with heart.
For more information, please visit longbeachnutcracker.com