It may be the grand home of the Stahlbaums on Christmas Eve, but there is not a Stahlbaum to be seen—or a Drosselmeyer, or party guests dressed to the nines. Somehow every little charm and delight that we know as The Nutcracker has been ripped apart, stomped on, tossed into the trash, and otherwise pulverized, leaving us with a different kind of delight: The Nutty Nutcracker. The only things left of Ben Stevenson’s original production for Texas Ballet Theater are the gorgeous sets and the music—or rather, some of the music.
You can understand why, after some 20 or 30 productions of the real thing, dancers might hanker for a change, and change is what we got for the annual one-night-only spoof at Bass Performance Hall on Friday night.
To a huge clap of thunder, a Mayan warrior appears in a menacing mood, utters unintelligible threats, and that sets the tone. What is to follow is chaos, drunken guests, stoned guests, angry guests, over-sexed guests and a lot of hip-gyrating sassy-dancing a la Dirty Dancing. The Peanuts gang lives in the house, Drosselmeyer has now morphed into Abe Lincoln, and the motley crew of guests includes Big Bird, the Marx brothers, Superman and Batman, Dolly Parton, Snooki—very pregnant—and the disgraced Lance Armstrong. Armstrong wheels about in his bike covered with First Place Ribbons. In no time, his ribbons are ripped away and he disappears, bike wobbling.
As another joke, the women’s gold metal gymnasts cartwheel and tumble, only they are so clumsy they can’t even do a decent backbend. Snoopy pees on the Nutcracker present and Norman Bates—in a twist of the plot of Psycho—gets stabbed repeatedly by party guests.
You can only have Michael Jackson doing the moonwalk on the show once—or else the surprise element is lost. So this time it’s John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John of Grease and Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey of Dirty Dancing, and not surprisingly, as Swayze, Lucas Priolo is sensational, making that famous up-in-the-air swirl of his partner even more stunning than in the movie version.
The gags continue. Edward and the Twilight vampires battle Jacob and the werewolves, and the Kingdom of the Snow is overtaken by bumbling white polar bears slugging down spiked Coca-Colas and getting sloshed.
Mother Ginger turns out to be Snow White, who bites into the poisoned apple and slumps over her enormous dress, a goner. The Spanish dancers are invaded by the Spice Girls and the Mirlitons by James Bond and two slick female agents, toting guns.
But the real hilarity comes in the Waltz of the Flowers. Still in their nighties and robes, members of a nursing home wheel around with abandon, supported by canes and walkers, able to rally enough to lift a leg in a parody of an arabesque. Almost as wacky is the pas de deux of the Nutcracker Prince and Sugar Plum Fairy, where the Prince faces a bewildering challenge: he must partner two Sugar Plum Fairies—conjoined twins. He does his best, and it’s one gag after the other.
◊ 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 and Dance Magazine.