Continuing through Dec. 23 at the Long Beach Terrace Theater—with its fountain plaza lit up in a winter wonderland—Long Beach Ballet’s (LBB) “The Nutcracker” is a warm spectacle that will delight the entire family.
Now in its 40th year, LBB’s “The Nutcracker” celebrates the magic of Christmas with ornate costuming, breathtaking tableaus, talented dancers and lots of children. Not to mention a real horse, floating angels, a flying sleigh and loud cannons firing explosives.
LBB cofounder and Artistic Director David Wilcox’s conceptualization, direction and choreography shine brightly, having unveiled this rendition of “The Nutcracker” last year to include more theatrical features designed by industry pros.
“It has pyrotechnics, it has magic—it’s got everything I can think of to make it thrilling,” Wilcox said of the enhancements. “You can hate ballet and you’ll still like this production.”
The story of “The Nutcracker”— from a tale by E. T. A. Hoffman, revised by Alexander Dumas and choreographed as a ballet by Marius Petipa in 1892, with score by Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky—tells of young Clara (a lovely Maeve Callahan), who receives an exquisite nutcracker doll from her mysterious uncle (Ben Majors) during her family’s grand Christmas Eve party.
At midnight, Clara sees the grandfather clock go haywire while a gang of mice overtake the family Christmas tree, threatening her as well. The nutcracker doll comes to life (portrayed by Alec Mercado) to fight the creepy mice with the help of an army of toy soldiers he releases from their gift-wrapped boxes.
Magically and wonderfully, the Christmas tree and presents grow huge, changing our perspective as soldiers and mice clash and cannons fire dramatically (pyrotechnics by John Bordeaux).
Though he is shot by the mouse king (Craig Rexroad)—who himself dies melodramatically when stabbed by Clara (wait for his moonwalk)—the Nutcracker morphs into a prince (Seth Orza) who escorts Clara through lands of snowflakes and sugarplums to witness beautiful dances from around the world.
Scenic designers Elliot Hessayon, Rex Heuschkel and Scott Schaffer create that dreamscape through transporting floor-to-ceiling backdrops, with lighting by Jared Sayeg. And the colorful, textured, whimsical costuming is thanks to Adrian Clark, Donna Dickens, Ann de Farra, Hilde Byrne and Cheryl Cartrwright.
In Clara’s dreamy excursion with the prince, snow falls as more than a dozen “Snowflakes” dance, along with the Snow Queen (Lucia Johansen) and Snow King (Evan Swenson). And soon, the prince whisks Clara away in a flying sleigh.
Ethereal angels open the second act—some magically floating above and some dancing gracefully on stage, while lots of little angels hold candles—before Clara and the prince arrive in the Land of the Sugarplum Fairy with a horse now pulling the sleigh.
Lively and physically challenging Spanish, Arabian, Chinese and Russian dances entertain Clara as she watches from the throne of the Sugarplum Fairy (Megan Wilcox). A giant Mother Ginger (Jennifer White) with dozens of little children also makes an appearance, as do two acrobatic, crowd-pleasing jesters (Andrew Tiamzon and Emily Medillin) in bright blue and purple.
Aurora Gray as the Dewdrop Fairy and Megan Wilcox as the Sugarplum Fairy stand out for their exquisite ballet dancing. Wilcox is especially mesmerizing in her grand pas de deux with Orza—beautifully controlled yet light, fluid and graceful.
Other performers also steal the spotlight at times, including the likable Maid (Stephanie Boggs), who rewards herself with an unfinished bottle of champagne after the party, and Benjohn Magcalas, who performs physically strenuous dances as the uncle's Moor Doll during the party and a Russian dancer doing squat kicks with arms folded.
In fact, all 250 dancers perform admirably, gamely giving all to their roles, even the cutest little ones. And throughout, a full symphony orchestra (conducted by Roger Hickman) performs Tchaikovsky’s classic score seemingly perfectly, making LBB’s “The Nutcracker” a holiday must-see.
Long Beach Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” continues at the Terrace Theater, 300 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach, on Thursday, Dec. 22, at 7:30 p.m. and Friday, Dec. 23, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $35 to $85 and can be purchased in person at the Long Beach Convention Center Box Office or online at LongBeachNutcracker.com. Masks are optional.
Video of Long Beach Terrace Theater plaza by Anita W. Harris, Dec. 2022