Dallas — As much as we love The Nutcracker we could do with a change. That we got with Bruce Wood Dance Project’s ever-so-sophisticated Mistletoe Magic, a one-night show that features Broadway stars Liz Callaway (Miss Saigon, Cats, Evita) and Hugh Panaro (The Phantom of the Opera, Show Boat, Sweeney Todd), as well as a terrific music ensemble and the always superb dancers.
Produced by Larry Lane, the program flowed seamlessly under the direction of renowned New York music director Joseph Thalken and the company’s artistic director Kimi Nikaidoh. Now in its third incarnation, the primary change was one of venue—from the cozy Venetian Room two years ago, to the BWDP dance studio last year and to Dallas City Performance Hall Tuesday night. While the Performance Hall brought a larger audience, the ambience of a nightclub was missed: the tinkling glasses, murmuring voices and the mood of giddy expectation.
On the other hand, the Performance Hall had excellent acoustics, atmospheric lighting and a background of skyscrapers.
Mistletoe Magic opens with musicians seated on a platform, barely visible behind a scrim as they launch into a medley of Christmas songs that shift ever so easily from jaunty to dreamy. Of the five musicians, the standouts are Mr. Thalken on piano and Drew Zaremba, recent graduate of the University of North Texas, on clarinet and saxophone.
As the scrim lifts, dancers in crimson party dress and black suits throw themselves into “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.” From out of nowhere, music from The Nutcracker drifts in as a naughty Eric Coulter gleefully brandishes the Nutcracker, only to be swatted away, his head down in defeat. As Ms. Callaway sings a mocking “You Better Watch Out,” Emily Drake, Mallory Ketch and Austin Sora switch chairs, vamp, flash legs and roll their shoulders.
The mood changes quickly, from a sweeping, swirling “Silver Bells” to a saucy if somewhat toned-down “Santa Baby,” and then to a haunting “All I Ask of You” from The Phantom of the Opera plaintively sung by Ms. Callaway and Mr. Panaro. It switches again with a mocking “God Rest You Merry Gentlemen” where Mr. Coudron, Albert Drake and David Escoto bunch up like gangsters, heads down, leaping sideways and knocking feet together.
There are at least two definitive styles in Bruce Wood’s repertory: soaring lifts and luxurious, flowing, rushing waves of moment, on the one hand, and snappy foot work, tight formations and a playful attitude. You might be hard put figuring out which of the pieces in Mistletoe Magic were his creation and which were by members of the company, so carefully did Mr. Drake’s “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” Joy Adkins Bollinger’s “Santa Baby” and Ms. Nikaidoh’s “Silver Bells,” among other works, capture the essence of his style.
And as true of Mr. Wood’s gift for bringing a show to a grand finish, Mistletoe Magic ended with Mr. Panaro singing a wistful “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” only for the song to segue into Mr. Wood’s gloriously snappy version, dancers in full swing.
The stars brought glamour; the dancers and musicians spontaneity.
» Margaret Putnam has been writing about dance since 1980, with works published by D Magazine, The Dallas Observer, The Dallas Times Herald, The Dallas Morning News, The New York Times, Playbill, Stagebill, Pointe Magazine and Dance Magazine.