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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 23, 2011 - Volume 39 Issue 51
Burlesque Nutcracker sweetens Seattle's Christmas season
Arts & Entertainment
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Burlesque Nutcracker sweetens Seattle's Christmas season

by Milton W. Hamlin - SGN A&E Writer

Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker
The Triple Door
Through December 27


Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker might well be the hottest ticket in the Emerald City this holiday season. Celebrating its sixth year, the merry send-up of the classic ballet and the world-famous music by Tchaikovsky has three remaining performances this season - tonight, tomorrow, and a just-added show on Tuesday, December 27. The production, happily housed at the Triple Door, the historic theater tucked under Wild Ginger in downtown Seattle, is a polished, cheerful mixture of a jazz riff and a not-very-naughty burlesque show. It's a perfect contrast to the wildly popular Pacific Northwest Ballet production currently on view at McCaw Hall at the Seattle Center and a marvelous antidote to the stereotypically overly sweet typical holiday fare. It's clear that the smart, snappy, semi-sexy show will continue for many years as a Seattle landmark.

Subtitled 'A Spectacle of Ecdysiastic Pageantry,' the production certainly lives up to its billing. Created by Lily Verlaine (artistic direction and choreography) and Jasper McCann (technical direction, script, and lyrics), the show mixes the classic fairy tale by E.T.A. Hoffman with a decidedly modern twist. That's the same approach that Duke Ellington's jazz version of Tchaikovsky's beloved music takes. It's amazing that it works, but it sure does. The Ellington jazz, played here on a top-notch sound system, provides the slight bounce that many of the classic themes take (and a few far-out renditions) but it's the neo-burlesque sequences that make this Burlesque Nutcracker such a fun outing. The 'pageantry' of the subtitle is first rate and the 'ecdysiastic' elements (that's a fancy word for 'shedding of the skin' - as in stripping) are great fun.

The structure remains faithful, for the most part, to the original Russian ballet - there's a 'Dance of the Snowflakes,' a wonderful scene in the Court of the Snow Queen. The 'Clockwork Doll' dance could be lifted from the PNB version except for the satirical approach. Laurel Bordeaux, trained in classical ballet, makes her 'first foray in burlesque' in this role, the fun-to-read program notes inform the audience. The Volga Boys ('The Russian Tepak Dance') mixes the genders, as do many of the numbers, casting women as 'the boys' plus using the real 'boys' in the show. Earlier, in ensemble numbers, the men in the show don female ballerina attire and (very successfully) dance traditionally women's roles - actually going en pointe, the fancy French term for dancing on the toes. The classic 'Chinese Dance' becomes 'The Mysterious Tea Mistress' here and works just as well. Act One ends with the Attack of the Rat King, danced with great fun by Seattle's Waxie Moon, famous as a 'gender-blending boylesque-art stripping sensation,' the program notes.

Act Two, like the traditional Nutcracker, moves to the Land of the Sweets. Madame Ginger, with Patty O'Furniture as Mother Ginger, opens the act with 'Madame Ginger's Finishing School,' a lavish production number. Tchaikovsky's 'Arabian Dance' transforms itself into 'Dream of the Coffee Casbah' and serves the same purpose - delightful diversions in the Land of the Sweets. A terrific aerial act, an incredible trio billed as the Aerial Suites, join the production for the first time with the 'Dance of the Angels,' but are well known to Seattle's arts audiences from appearances ranging from street fairs to ACT and Seattle Opera.

The original story and music are clearly on stage with 'Cool it, Hot Chocolate' (Tchaikovsky's original 'Spanish Dance') and the Countess of Candies ('The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy'), a sensational turn by Miss Indigo Blue. The 'Waltz of the Flowers' brings the ensemble back in focus with three terrific solos fronting the line: Lily Verlaine, Laurel Bordeaux, and Paris Original.

All of the soloists - several of whom alternate certain solos but appear in every production - are top notch. They are skilled in the art of the dance and in the arts of modern-day burlesque. They may strip to pasties and give the illusion of nudity, but it's all done in fun, 'with a wink and a smile,' as is often the philosophy of the neo-burlesque movement. The gender-bending casting of some numbers (the men also strip to unnecessary pasties) adds to the overall 'naughty-but-nice' feeling. It's clearly a show for adults - and fairly sophisticated ones at that. The more an individual knows about the 'real' Nutcracker and the Tchaikovsky score, the more fun it is. But first-timers obviously have a great time as well.

The Triple Door serves a full dinner menu, created upstairs in the Wild Ginger restaurant. Table service was terrific - our waitress, Mercedes, solved our every problem with good grace and a smile. (This reviewer toasted the evening with his guest with a most-welcome martini and, after one sip, promptly dropped the nearly full drink on the floor. A staff member quickly responded, cleaned up the spill, and presented a replacement drink with no charge - a first-class operation.)

Next on the company's schedule is an April 2012 revival of Through the Looking Glass: The Burlesque Alice in Wonderland. Complete details on all of the company's plans and productions at www.landofthesweets.com. Check it out.

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