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Review: Texas Ballet Theater’s ‘Nutty Nutcracker’

Posted 9:20am on Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2013

The Texas Ballet Theater’s The Nutcracker always soars not just because of the quality of dancers, but from Ben Stevenson’s knack for comedy, particularly in the opening party scene. For the past five years, that comedy has been turned up to 11 for the one-night-only The Nutty Nutcracker, which uses pop culture and the year’s news buzz to populate the holiday tradition with outlandish characters.

This year, the comedy was not only outrageous, but the timing on Friday night was executed with rapier precision. Perfect timing with their physicality is something you’d expect from ballet dancers, but spot-on comedic timing is a whole new ballgame.

This year’s party at the Stahlbaums was hosted by a popular TV family—a lovely lady and a man named Brady who each had three kids. Guests included a crack-smoking Rob Ford, Walter White, JFK and Jackie, the Kardashians, Grumpy Cat and four hirsute duck hunters who have been in the news this week. With a nod to that controversy, the patriarch bristled when Frank N. Furter (Lucas Priolo) entered, playing the Drosselmeyer character.

Carol and Mike Brady temporarily became Brad and Janet, and the whole gang engaged in The Time Warp. (Because there was no program for this event, and there was so much makeup and costuming, it was hard to identify many of the dancers.)

Then came the biggest surprise of the evening: The cabbage coach rolled out, which during the regular Nutcracker has dolls inside. This time, the doors opened and sitting there was the real Lyle Lovett. Guitar in hand, he stepped forward and sang The Girl with the Holiday Smile, the cast of crazies swaying behind him.

Then, in the Land of Snow was the parody that everyone expected: Miley Cyrus swings in on a giant wrecking ball. Pretty soon, she has the princess (Carolyn Judson) and prince (Carl Coomer) twerking. Coomer, hilariously twerking in tights, later changes into the Robin Thicke suit, and he and Miley fly away in the sleigh together. Act I ends with The Harlem Shake.

In the Land of Sweets, we get some serious ballet athleticism and showmanship, but the costumes are still off the wall. Hosted by Effie Trinket of The Hunger Games, the Chinese variation is done by the Mario Brothers, using a plunger and wrench in lieu of the sword and stick they dance with in Stevenson’s normal Nut. The Russian is Charlie Chaplin, flawlessly incorporating the dance in that piece with the iconic movements of the silent film actor.

Most brilliant is the Arabian, in which Sandra Bullock’s Gravity character enters on the flying carpet, and then two dancers dressed entirely in black, to mimic space, lift and tumble her through space, but with balletic grace.

The Waltz of the Flowers becomes The Waltzing Dead, with zombie flowers, and is led by Frankenstein and his Bride. To top it all off, the biggest laugh I’ve had in years of the Nutty, the Sugar Plum Fairy is played by the tallest male dancer, and the Cavalier is a tiny woman. With a hat tip to Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, the male dancer does an admirable job en pointe, and lifts the Cavalier. They all encore with the Thriller dance.

The only thing that could have made it better would have been Lyle Lovett twerking.

There are no more performances of Nutty Nutcracker this season, but the regular Nutcracker runs through Dec. 27 at Bass Performance Hall, 817-763-0207; texasballettheater.org

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