A Nutcracker Burlesque
Playwright: Music by Peter Ilyich Tschaikovsky, choreography by Darling Shear
At: Tom Boi Theatricals at Uptown Underground, 4707 N. Broadway. Tickets: $25-$30. Runs through: Dec. 20
The Nutcracker has figured in the repertoire of family-friendly Yuletide-season relics ever since its premiere in 1892. The boldness of Tom Boi Theatricals gender-fluid casting can thus be said to represent a significant break from gilded-age protocol, as does its staging at the speakeasy-district Uptown Underground Cabaret. Oh, and if that isn't enough to alert holiday playgoers not to arrive expecting toe-shoes-and-tutus, the word "burlesque" appended to its title should provide sufficient warning.
As aficionados of the now-closed Gorilla Tango and Inconvenience's Fly Honey series can attest, though, this generic appellation doesn't necessarily herald an evening devoted to tawdry-bawdy-bump-and-grind. Indeed, Burlycue first-timers may be surprised at how closely the scenario of this hour-long vaudeville, choreographed by Darling Shear, adheres to the ballet's fanciful E.T.A. Hoffman text, even to encompassing classical adagios and Sugar Plum pas seuls, albeit performed in feathery mules sporting four-inch heels.
We meet our young heroine at a Christmas party, where Drosselmeyer, the company magician, presents her with the gift of a wooden nutcracker in the shape of a uniformed hussar. Its recipient is disappointed, initially, but upon nibbling on a fragment of her soldier boy's candy cane, she is transported, Alice-in-Wonderland style, to the fantasy Land of Sweets. After assisting the now life-sized cavalryman in vanquishing an army of rats and freeing the monarch of the realm, the courageous defenders are rewarded with an entertainment featuring an array of dancers, each representing a confection indigenous to the mythical kingdom.
The fun isn't only in the florid spectacle invoked by the scrumptious costumesa tea-cup brassiere, for example, or a crinoline petticoat lit from underneath like a lampshadebut also in the jazz arrangements of Tschaikovsky's familiar melodies, gleaned from legends like Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn and Glen Miller. Fans are employed by a Snowflake chorus displaying a diversity of physiques, while show-stopping solo turns include Emma Glitterbomb's sleekly acrobatic Vodka striptease, Gaea Lady's Hot Chocolate turn with flaming hoops and Kamrah's supple Coffee belly-dance-with-scimitar. The results make for imagery high-calorie, but curiously innocentqualities befitting a terpsichoreal art form once likened to similarly wholesome cheesecake.