Fort Worth — Last year’s Nutty Nutcracker seemed pretty hard to top. Artistic Director Ben Stevenson and Texas Ballet Theater surprised everyone with Lyle Lovett emerging from the vegetable carriage during the party scene. For this year’s one-night deviation of the beloved holiday classic, it seemed difficult to one-up that for audiences at Bass Performance Hall in Fort Worth. But they did.
So what’s better than a Lyle Lovett cameo and song? A Lovett cameo with three songs. And his entrance is way cooler this time.
TBT errs on the side of caution as they open the show. Dancers in white pseudo-hazmat suits with CDC written on them roamed the aisles disinfecting (with air, of course) any potential bugs that might out there. Ebola might be gone from North Texas, but it is still flu season after all. Once declared safe, the Beverly Hillbillies are revealed as this year’s party hosts.
The guests this year prove to be a very random bunch. The Village People arrive first and later perform “YMCA” and “Macho Man.” Other attendees include the Insurance Icon Trio (Flo, a gecko and the Mayhem Man), Taylor Swift (who got an award taken away from her), Cruella De Vil, Cher, Chuckie, and the Mask. The award for most hilarious reference goes to the Baywatch duet. A very padded dancer in a bright red swimsuit gets carried by her partner as they reenact the slow-motion running.
The Drosselmeyer character always has his own little twist, and this year he’s the Grinch. Instead of giving gifts, he’s stealing them, but he still unveils surprises out of the cabbage and another large box. While the former contains no superstar cameos, it instead birthed the best moment of the party scene. The, ahem, portly guests of the original Nutcracker party pop out with their rendition of Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.”
Keeping with the theme of “Recent Pop Culture Phenomenon,” the second “present” joins the party suspended in the doorframe of an oversized Christmas box and clad in a nude leotard and blonde wig. Hitting two birds with one stone, one of TBT’s dramatic and flexible male dancers (Thomas Kilps) performs sections of the choreography from Sia’s “Chandelier” video.
More interesting things materialize out of a box after the party, such as the Merry Men from Mel Brooks’ Robin Hood: Men in Tights, an appropriate song given the full-time jobs of these gentlemen. The mice scare them away, and Maleficent enters as the Rat King. After an exaggerated non-fight, the snow scene appears. With snowmen. Can you guess where this is going?
As if we haven’t heard the song enough, Carolyn Judson enters dressed as Elsa to sing that song which shall not be named, as she wanders through a glittery “frozen” land. The snow ensemble enters as her backup dancers, but alas, Elsa’s presence is too cold, so they don winter coats and accessories.
To close Act One with a bang, the entire cast performs segments from the 1988 National Aerobic Championships to Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off”, complete with wonderfully 80s Spandex outfits. That mash-up video is another gem of 2014 that is not to be missed.
Act Two consists of Santa reminiscing on his worldwide travels and other random musings. Some of the men of TBT pay homage to the sexy Kmart Christmas ad again and ring their “bells” to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles perform the exuberant Chinese choreography.
As the opening notes of the Arabian segment play, TBT fans know that someone is about to fly in on the magic carpet. In a puzzling moment, a sweet blonde decked out in western gear with an open feathered fan rides in, and we’re all wondering what movie or character she’s referencing. Her fan closes to reveal Lyle Lovett. The theater is so quiet, a pin drop would’ve sounded like a bullhorn, as he sings not one but two songs. Will this become a yearly tradition?
Afterwards, minions substitute for Mirlitons, the children of Mother Ginger turn bad with “Cell Block Tango,” and the Russian Gopak consists of two gentlemen doing the towel dance, another YouTube hit of this year.
The “Waltz of the Flowers” features Alexander Kotelenets as The Bachelor, but he picks none of the ladies fawning over him. Riverdance is parodied, including Michael Flatley in all his vainglory. Santa mentions “old sugar,” and Leticia Oliveira dressed as an old lady attempts the grand pas de deux with Carl Coomer.
The “Evolution of Dance” (which includes the annual Thriller sequence) closes out the act, and Lovett leads everyone in a sing-along of “Silent Night,” ending the evening on a most touching and memorable note.