by Patricia Grandjean
Dec 21, 2010
01:25 PM
Box Office

The Crack-Up


Composed by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, "The Nutcracker" was first performed at the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg in December 1892. The ballet's many charms have since earned for it a warm spot in the public's heart, but it wasn't until fairly recently that productions of "The Nutcracker" have begun reproducing like gerbils in a sock.

This holiday season, the average resident of Connecticut will have had the chance to view dozens of live productions of "The Nutcracker" - at opera houses, theaters, church halls, schools, bus stations, toll plazas and film-return kiosks. Soon it may not be necessary to leave home at all. My research has turned up plan for a "Door-to-Door Nutcracker" to be sponsored by the Electrolux Corporation, a Western Union "Nutcrackergram" and even a "Nutcrackermobile," which will, at taxpayer expense, bring the production to neighborhoods where Tchaikovsky is generally thought to be one of those funny old Soviet cosmonauts.

With so many "Nutcrackers" vying for public attention, enormous creative effort has gone into making certain productions stand out in the crowded field. Among the most memorable nationally have been performances by an all left-handed cast (Cicero, Ill., 1987); by an all centenarian cast (Clearwater, Fla., 1991); by an all Weightwatcher Class cast (Brighton, Mass., 2003); by an all nightwatchmen born out of wedlock cast (Cleveland, Ohio, 2006); and by a cast made up entirely of persons who, on opening night, were hearing the music for the very first time (Midland, Tex., 2009).

Directors and choreographers have experimented endlessly with the form and content of the ballet as well. There were the notorious San Francisco productions during the turbulent 1960s in which Lyndon Johnson was lampooned as the leader of the invading mice, while the triumphant Clara was given the wispy beard and unmistakable features of Ho Chi Minh.

And, of course, who could forget the watery antics (including a thematically jarring basketball sequence) that marked "The Nutcracker" as performed by dolphins and orcas at Sea World in the mid-1990s?

But enough history. My point is that while "The Nutcracker" is a sturdy vehicle - sturdier, apparently, than "A Hee-Haw Family Christmas - there is a limit to what it, and we, can bear.

The Limit: I read this morning about a tribute to the late Sam Walton his survivors are going to star in "a king-sized Arkansas version" of "The Nutcracker" that will hit Wal-Mart parking lots around the country next holiday season, with each performance accompanied by insanely deep in-store discounts not only on hand-painted nutcrackers, but also on cocktail peanuts and snow tires.

Will someone please tell Tchaikovsky the news?

The Crack-Up

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Box Office is your guide to entertainment across Connecticut, courtesy of senior editor Pat Grandjean. If it's a chat with an actor or actress, previewing a new play at a regional theater, the latest on a state celebrity's new movie, or recommendations for seeing and doing, let Box Office be one of your hubs.

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