Directed by Robert Joffrey
Conducted by Scott Speck
Produced by Joffrey Ballet
Charming Nutcracker Moves Beautifully
While The Nutcracker is widely known as being among the best classical music scores and a long-time favorite of ballet companies, I had never thought of it as funny before seeing the Joffrey production. This version, however, which is filled with dozens of children and fanciful designs by Kermit Love, is a playful variation on Tchaikovsky’s final work. That, and Scott Speck’s energetic conducting, keeps the show light-hearted, while showcasing the finest feats the human body is capable of.
The story is minimal but allows Joffrey to establish a tone of vaguely holiday related fancy. A family is hosting a Christmas party. The older child, Clara, is calm and well-behaved, while her hyperactive little brother Fritz is everywhere at once. A magician, Dr. Drosselmeyer, arrives and produces mechanical dolls to delight the guests. Gifts are exchanged; some genius gave Fritz a bugle. Dr. Drosselmeyer gives Clara a figurine nut cracker in the shape of a soldier, which Fritz breaks within two seconds. That night, the dolls come to life and battle against mice trying to eat them. Clara saves the nutcracker by bonking the mouse king with her slipper, and in gratitude nutcracker, now a handsome prince, takes her and Dr. Drosselmeyer to a magical kingdom to be entertained for the night.
The cast rotates through different roles, but I have no doubt after seeing their ensemble work that each will make full use of their moment to shine. The first scene at the house is the one which makes the heaviest use of children, and it’s cute how the adult company members shepherd them around and lead them through some moves. Oliver Smith’s cut-out scenery is warm, but already creates fantastic world. Once the stage transforms, the company is all grace in the land of snow. This scene includes an alternate universe version of Clara’s family as royal frost beings, whose movements in the falling snow are as dazzling as their maneuvers around bustling children in the first scene.
Following the intermission, Clara and friends move on to the Kingdom of Sweets. Joffrey wisely keeps Clara active as she is saluted by representatives of caffeine and sugar of the world (a fantasy for children, a nightmare for those around them), responding enthusiastically to each presentation. Each of the short but very different divertissements is choreographed to complement the music; none was weak in comparison with the others. The following flower waltz again covered the stage and air, but this time in multicolored petals. At the end the prince and the sugar plum fairy show what makes the Joffrey world-class, and why dancers work so hard at what they do. (The night I saw they were Dylan Gutierrez and Jeraldine Mendoza, who deserve specific recognition.)
At only two hours, The Nutcracker is an excellent length for families hoping to expose their children to high culture within a realm they can appreciate. The music, spectacle, and dancing are always high-spirited and will fill you with delight. From fist-shaking mice to a bizarre giant puppet, this world fires the imagination with good humor. The children in the cast are disciplined and make a real contribution to the show. But the adults will make you proud to have supported them.
For more information, see The Nutcracker’s page on Theatre in Chicago.
Find all the places to see The Nutcracker in Chicago and surrounding areas.