BWW Review: THE HARD NUT at Paramount Theatre Is a Mix of Comedy and Dancing Spectacle
THE HARD NUT at the Paramount Theatre is a mix of comedy and dancing spectacle. The Mark Morris Dance Group presents their version of the Nutcracker and the Mouseking with the aim to make classical ballet accessible to the masses.
The story begins with young Marie excited about the holiday party her parents are hosting. Amid the festivities a guest, Drosselmeier, presents Marie with a special gift, a nutcracker doll. Her brother breaks the doll, which Marie attempts to mend with her hair ribbon. Later after the party, Marie returns to check on her doll. She is frightened by rats, and manages to kill their leader, the Rat King with her slipper, but she falls unconscious. Drosselmeier's journey takes him through a beautiful blizzard. The next day Marie is feverish, and Drosselmeier returns to tell her a story. The story is about a baby princess, Pirlipat who is horribly disfigured by the Rat Queen after the nurse falls asleep on duty. Her beauty can only be restored if they can find a young man who can crack the hard nut with his teeth. For years Drosselmeier searched for someone who could crack the nut. Finally, his own nephew succeeds. But the search has taken so long that Drosselmeier has grown old and Pirlipat rejects him as he has turned wooden like a Nutcracker. Marie declares her love for Drosselmeier. They dance with joy, and everyone celebrates with them.
So while THE HARD NUT uses the same Tchaikovsky music as The Nutcracker, its story is different enough to give it its own identity. Additionally, THE HARD NUT includes much more emphasis on comedy and physical antics. Indeed the comedy is what sets it apart from other holiday dance shows. However, don't let that make you think there isn't spectacular dancing in this show because there absolutely is. In fact, the dancing is so amazing, that I often wished they would cut some of the jokes and just dance more. The biggest trouble spot for the show is their devotion to matching the music. The Nutcracker Suite is known for repeating motifs, often three times in a row. Repeating choreography can be great, when it's a cool move that you want to see again and again, but it's not so great when it's a gag or joke that is repeated three times in a row for diminishing laughs. THE HARD NUT is fun alternative for those seeking something less serious this holiday season. Those who love the classic version, might be less enthused with this take on the timeless tale.
Whether you prefer a good laugh or the majesty of classical ballet, THE HARD NUT does a few things really well that anyone will find noteworthy. The costuming by Martin Pakledinaz has a flair and style of its own. From the wigs to Marie's signature ruffle, to the Nutcracker's harlequin pants, each character and group has its identifying element, yet they all work together. The choreography by Mark Morris blends many worlds together and always pays homage to the music. The snowflake dance at the end of Act I was my favorite by far. It encompassed the ideals of the show with masterful dancing enhanced with some comedic elements. The orchestra, which rarely gets mentioned in a review, deserves a nod for their performance was impeccable. Additionally, the show includes gender blind casting in many roles. Men and women are dressed and dance identically in many ensemble groups. It adds a layer of whimsy while also making a statement about how traditional ballet has often limited movements into gender categories unnecessarily. Both during intermission and after the show, comments were swirling about the amazing performance of the maid. Brandon Randolph is simply epic. His dance prowess, his comedic talent, and his ability to command the stage made him the undeniable star of the show.
THE HARD NUT is a hard show to describe, and equally hard to categorize. Some will love it, and some will not. But you'll never know in which camp you fall unless you come see it.
THE HARD NUT is playing now through December 15th at the Paramount Theatre. For tickets or more information, visit www.stgpresents.org.