THE MAGIC OF THE NUTCRACKER – REFRESHED

Richmond Ballet Presents a Holiday Favorite

An Unconventional Dance Review by Julinda D. Lewis & Guest Reviewers Kingston and Emmitt

By: The Richmond Ballet

At: Dominion Energy Center’s Carpenter Theatre, 600 E. Grace Street, RVA 23219

Performances: December 9-23, 2022

Ticket Prices: $25 – $130

Info: (804) 344-0906, etix.com, or richmondballet.com

Updated COVID-19 Protocols, see below.

THE PROGRAM

The Nutcracker 

Artistic Direction and Choreography by Stoner Winslett

Production conceived by Stoner Winslett and Charles Caldwell

Music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky

Music performed by the Richmond Symphony

Conducted by Erin Freeman

Scenery designed by Alain Vaës

Costumes designed by David Heuvel

Lighting designed by Richard Moore and Associate, Catherine Girardi

When I was a Girl Scout Leader (which I was, for 27 years), one of my favorite things to do was to take young girls camping for the first time. Likewise, one of my favorite things to do as a writer, teacher, and grandmother is to take my young people to the theater for the first time. Three of my grandsons live in RVA, ages 14, 8, and 8 months. The oldest has seen The Nutcracker before, and with the return of live performances, it was time for the middle one to have his first Nutcracker experience. So on Sunday evening I got a chance to re-experience the classic holiday ballet through new eyes.

The magic begins the moment you enter the theater – well, as soon as you pass through security and have your tickets scanned. [Security approved of my clear plastic tote and the small “sippy cups” I’d brought so we wouldn’t spill the drinks we bought at the concession stand.] While waiting for the program to begin, I enjoyed watching the families with children of all ages, most dressed in their holiday finery. Kingston (a high school student and the family percussionist) and Emmitt (age 8) saw that it was okay to go take a peek at the orchestra pit and returned to their seats discussing the probability of someone falling into the pit.

Other preparatory and property elements worthy of note included explaining why the audience applauded the arrival of the Symphony conductor and the many layers of show drops and curtains that open throughout the lavish production to reveal scenes from the streets of Nuremburg to the entry and drawing room of the Silberhaus home to the Enchanted Snow Forest and Confitenberg, the Kingdom of Sweets. Also, the diversity of the cast is important, because representation matters, especially when young audience members can see people onstage who look like themselves. An example follows a few paragraphs down.

The Nutcracker is a family show for The Richmond Ballet as well as for the audience. Students from the School of Richmond Ballet, apprentices, members of RBII, new and experienced company members, and even faculty and staff share the stage for this multi-generational extravaganza. In addition to refreshed costumes and scenery, the Silberhaus party features newly constructed doll houses for Dr. Drosselmeyer’s magic show, Mother Ginger is back from her pandemic hiatus – with eight kiddy-winks under her voluminous skirts — and Associate Artistic Director, Ma Cong (who dances the role of Dr. Drosselmeyer) has choreographed a new Chinese dance that incorporates elements of Chinese folkdance, which he studied extensively early in his career, with Beijing Dance Academy and The National Ballet of China.

Yes, there is a magic show within the magical show. Dr. Drosselmeyer, godfather to Clara (Adhya Yaratha at Sunday’s 5:30 PM performance) and her mischievous brother Fritz (Sunnelin Seay), and creator of the famous Nutcracker for which the ballet is named, has a penchant for turning toys into humans. Winslett and Cong’s interpretation of Dr. Drosselmeyer, however, is substantially less creepy than the character was originally written. There is also the magic of dreams as Clara falls asleep with her mended Nutcracker – after her little brother Fritz, in a fit of jealously, pulls off its head – and in her slumber journeys with her Young Prince (Benjamin Piner) to the Kingdom of Sweets – where all the dancing happens.

I am on board with the youth in my adoration for the battle between the Mouse King’s army and the Toy Soldiers. But of course, Kingston and Emmitt who are bonafide martial artists, had a lot to say about the fight technique. One graciously commented that, “it was good.” The other assessed that the sword fights were not realistic, specifically that the swords should have come closer. “We practice near misses,” he critiqued.

Emmitt, the eight-year-old, kept up a running commentary: the Bear (Paul Piner) in the Russian dance is breakdancing, and why is one of the Lambs black? My apologies to any nearby patrons who may have been disturbed. Most noteworthy, he was mesmerized by Mother Ginger to the point that he expressed a desire to participate in an upcoming production. He was undeterred when I told him he’d need to take ballet classes, but near the end of the scene abruptly changed his mind. “I couldn’t do that,” he said. “I can’t stand still that long; I have too much energy.”

I learned later that both novice critics retold the story and re-enacted several scenes for their mother. Both also noted that in a pas de deux the woman gets all the good dance phrases. And finally, “There’s no Nutcracker in the second half – it doesn’t make sense. Otherwise, that was a good one!” That’s Emmitt’s summary and he’s sticking to it.

If I may conclude with my own two cents worth…

Adhya Yaratha and Benjamin Piner were absolutely charming as Clara/The Little Princess and Dr. Drosselmeyer’s Nephew/The Little Prince. The Snow Choir sounded heavenly. I would love to learn that magical gliding step that takes the Angels across the stage, guiding or welcoming Clara and her Prince to The Kingdom of Sweets. It reminds me of a gliding step used by Russian dancers that my dance history students showed me this past fall. The new choreography for the Chinese Dance – the title of which is actually Tea – does, indeed have an authentic look and feel. Dancer Eri Nishihara’s highly touted green pointe shoes are, in fact, all that – and, wait, was the dragon newly outfitted as well?

Naomi Wilson was a lovely Butterfly in the Waltz of the Flowers, and finally, it was a pleasure to finally get to see guest dancer Kristina Kadashevych dancing the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy as well as the ballet’s Grand Pas de Deux with Aleksey Babayev as her Cavalier. The petite dancer’s steps appear effortless and feathery – a stark contrast to the conditions surrounding her current residency. Ms. Kadashevych, you see, fled the Ukraine last spring as her homeland was being invaded by Russian soldiers, so perhaps those ethereal steps actually reflect what it feels like to be free. The Nutcracker is not new to her, and she will also be performing with the Richmond Ballet in February when the company returns to Dominion Energy Center with the East Coast premiere of Ma Cong’s Firebird and Balanchine’s signature Serenade (limited run, February 17-19).


Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.


THE NUTCRACKER PERFORMANCE SCHEDULE
December 9-23, 2022 | Dominion Energy Center
600 E Grace St, Richmond, VA 23219

Friday, December 9 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, December 10 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Sunday, December 11 at 1:00 PM and 5:30 PM
Friday, December 16 at 7:00 PM
Saturday, December 17 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Sunday, December 18 at 1:00 PM and 5:30 PM
Tuesday, December 20 at 7:00 PM
Wednesday, December 21 at 7:00 PM
Thursday, December 22 at 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM
Friday, December 23 at 2:00 PM 

UPDATED COVID-19 Protocols (As of March 2022): Please note that we are seating at 100% capacity this season. Beginning with Studio Three in March, we will no longer require patrons to wear masks or to show proof of vaccination/negative COVID test in order to attend a performance.

MASKS: In light of the latest CDC guidelines and Central Virginia’s current “Low/Medium Community Level” status, masks are optional at these performances.

BALLET BARRE: The Ballet Barre (cashless) will be open for our spring Studio performances. Beer, wine, and soft drinks will be available for purchase pre-show as well as during intermission.

CHOREOGRAPHER’S CLUB: In addition to the exclusive Q&A session with the artists, designers, and dancers, we will host a modified post-show reception. More details will be found in your House Notes email.

WELLNESS CHECK: Patrons who do not feel well leading up to a performance are asked to stay home. If you have tested positive or have symptoms of COVID-19, please call our Box Office at 804.344.0906 x224 so that we may discuss ticket options.


Photo Credits: Production photos to follow

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CHRISTMAS ON THE ROCKS

The Kids From Your Favorite Christmas Shows, All Grown Up

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

At: Richmond Triangle Players at the Robert B. Moss Theatre, 1300 Altamont Ave, RVA 23230

Performances: November 16 – December 18, 2022

Ticket Prices: $10 – $45

Info: (804) 346-8113 or rtriangle.org

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We can always depend on Richmond Triangle Players to give us an edgy, snarky, comedic, or dark Christmas offering. Christmas on the Rocks, a collection of short plays or scenes by various authors, does not disappoint – it gives us all of the above.

This year, the authors are John Cariani, Jenn Harris & Matthew Wilkas, Jeffrey Hatcher, Jacques Lamarre, Theresa Rebeck, and Edwin Sanchez. The “kids,” a slightly  different cast of characters than RTP’s 2015 production, include Ralphie from A Christmas Story, Zuzu Bailey from It’s A Wonderful Life,  Hermey, the Elf from Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Rudolph and the Island of Misfit Toys, Karen, an internet influencer, Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol, Clara from The Nutcracker ballet, and the hapless Charlie Brown. Zuzu and Karen replaced Susan (Miracle on 34th Street) and Cindy Lou Who (The Grinch Who Stole Christmas). Regional productions may feature different characters.

All these characters are portrayed by two highly talented and versatile actors. Theresa Mantiply plays all the women and Eddie Webster plays all the men. The motley cast of characters wander, one by one, into a local bar, where the friendly bartender, played by Joe Pabst, is at first surprised and ultimately perplexed at the increasingly colorful parade of characters who enter, seeking solace from the loneliness of Christmas Eve.

In the first scene, we see Ralphie, wearing an eye patch, peek through the window of the unimposing little bar – beautifully designed by William Luther with important inclusive details that provide something each of the characters can relate to on a personal level.

To answer the obvious question, yes, Ralphie finally did get his eye shot out, but it was not self-inflicted. A firearms safety instructor for the NRA, he was shot by a student and is now unemployed. On top of that, he has intimacy issues due to that infamous pink bunny suit his Aunt Clara sent, but not for the reasons one might expect.  You see, he actually liked it.

Little Zuzu Bailey who, as a child, declared that every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings, has been harassed by angels for decades – and responds in nonsensical rhyming platitudes, while Hermey, the Elf who had dreams of becoming a dentist, has become a gossipy hater who holds a long-time grudge against Rudolf – not realizing that his own misfit status makes him more like Rudolph than not.

Karen, an entitled but untalented influencer, holds the Bartender hostage, posting increasingly unhinged videos for her unfortunate followers. Tiny Tim drops by, displaying Scrooge-like qualities and Clara’s cheating Prince has left her alone for the holiday. The last customer is none other than Charlie Brown, complete with a yellow sweater with a black zigzag line. Wonder of wonders – it’s a Christmas miracle – he finally gets to talk to The Little Red Haired Girl in the only scene shared by Mantiply and Webster. Through it all, Pabst calmy mixes drinks and offers gentle advice.

Christmas on the Rocks is a non-traditional Christmas story – or collection of sequels – billed as “an offbeat collection of twisted holiday tales” for the grown up kids in all of us who love a good laugh – especially when it’s at our own expense. There are limited performances left, so ditch the kids and go see it.

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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CHRISTMAS ON THE ROCKS:

An Epic Offbeat Collection of Twisted Holiday Tales

Written by John Cariani, Jenn Harris & Matthew Wilkas, Jeffrey hatcher, Jacques Lamarre, Theresa Rebeck, and Edwin Sanchez

Conceived by Rob Ruggiero

Sponsored by David Peake

Directed by Axle Burtness

CAST:

Theresa Mantiply – Woman

Eddie Webster – Man

Joe Pabst – the Bartender

Understudies: Rachel Garmon-Williams and Travis Williams

CREATIVE TEAM:

Scenic & Costume Design       – William Luther

Lighting Design                       – Nathan Wunderlich

Sound & Projections Design   – Lucian Restivo

Hair & Make Up Design          – Luke Newsome

Props Design                           – Tim Moehring

Dialect Coach                          – Donna E. Cogbill

Technical Direction                 – William Luther

Assistant Scenic & Costume Design – Kendall Walker

Production Stage Manager – Saskia Price

Photo Credits: John MacLellan

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SHE STOOPS TO CONQUER:

THE PLAY THAT USHERED IN A NEW WAVE OF HUMOR

A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis

By: Quill Theatre’s Richmond Shakespeare Festival

At: Agecroft Hall & Gardens, 4305 Sulgrave Road, Richmond, VA 23221

Performances: July 7-31, 2022

Ticket Prices: $20-$33

Info: (804) 353-4241 or quilltheatre.org

Dating back to 1773, She Stoops to Conquer has long been considered one of the most popular English-language comedies. Interestingly, it was a major theatrical success by a relatively unknown playwright – Oliver Goldsmith – and the play that set Director James Ricks, then a middle school student, ablaze with a passion for live theater. It is also credited with being the source of the phrase, “ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies.”

The plot is a familiar one – two affluent families, the Hardcastles and the Marlows, arrange to introduce their children, Kate and Charles, with an end goal of marriage. But Kate’s spoiled, immature older half-brother Tony Lumpkin sees this as an excellent opportunity to wreak havoc of monumental proportions. Tony likes to hang out with the masses at the local pub – at one point Mr. Hardcastle say of him, disparagingly, “the only school he’ll ever go to is the ale house.” And that is precisely where he is when he intercepts his sister’s would-be suitor and his traveling companion – at the local pub – as they search for the remotely-located country home of the Hardcastle family. Tony convinces Charles that the Hardcastle estate is an inn. There ensues a “comedy of errors,” and one fascinating result is that young Charles Marlow, who has been described as educated and shy, imperiously treats his unsuspecting hosts as servants, displaying a side Kate was not expecting. Kate, however, has her own agenda, and disguises herself as a barmaid to further explore the character of her would-be suitor.

Like any good sitcom, there are subplots and counter-plots to the main theme. These include a secret love-affair between Kate’s cousin Constance and young Marlow’s friend George Hastings, Mrs. Marlow’s attempts to hide an inheritance, and Tony’s attempts to avoid an arranged marriage of his own. This simplified synopsis does not do justice to the live production. She Stoops to Conquer is neither trite nor stereotypical. Supporting characters are as interesting as leading characters – establishing a sort of social equality that was far ahead of its time.

Debra Wagoner was delightful in the role of Mrs. Hardcastle, the master (or mistress) of much of the seemingly unintended humor. In one of the latter scenes, she gets her comeuppance when her own son (Josh Mullins as Tony Lumpkin) tricks her into thinking she is lost in the wilderness. Mark Persinger as her husband, proved to be a stark contrast to Wagoner’s character and brought his own unique style of humor. Hardcastle, you see, is decidedly old-fashioned, stuck in the past and despises anything modern, while his wife (a social climber) and daughter (a sensible young woman with a mind of her own) yearn for modern fashions and are attracted by the lure of the city. Wagoner proved to be a capable antagonist, while Katy Feldhahn (Kate) was more than capable of conquering.

Josh Mullins, as Mrs. Hardcastle’s spoiled son, happily wreaked havoc at every turn. Calie Bain as Kate and Tony’s cousin (and Tony’s reluctant intended) Constance Neville was solid and dependable in a somewhat predictable and unremarkable role while Ian Page played his role close to the edge and over the top as the socially challenged Young Marlow.

That being said, She Stoops to Conquer was a delightful summer divertissement, comedically ahead of its time, pleasant and fairly well-paced, with direction by James Ricks. It just wasn’t my cup of tea, but I would certainly give it a second chance in the future.

NOTE: Unfortunately, this summer’s Shakespeare Festival took the brunt of the summer storms. Both productions at Agecroft Hall were plagued by cancellations due to weather, and, alas, the closing production of She Stoops to Conquer was no exception.

She Stoops to Conquer

By Oliver Goldsmith

Directed by James Ricks

Cast

Mrs. Hardcastle……………  Debra Wagoner

Mr. Hardcastle ……………   Mark Persinger

Tony Lumpkin ……………   Josh Mullins

Kate Hardcastle ..…………   Katy Feldhahn

Constance Neville…………   Calie Bain

Young Marlow….…………   Ian Page

George Hastings.…………    William Cardozo

Sir Charles/Landlord ……  John Cauthen

Pimple/Betty ………………..   Els Dusek

Diggory/Fellow ..…………    Alex Chapman

Roger/Jeremy .……….……    Audrey Sparrow

Production Team

Director:  James Ricks

Stage Manager: Nata Moriconi

Costume Designer: Cora Delbridge

Lighting Designer: Andrew Bonniwell

Props Designer: Emily Hicks

Music Director: Jason Marks

Choreographer: Nicole Morris-Anastasi

Dialect Coach: Harrison Runion

Assistant Stage Manager: Hope Jewell

Stage Construction: Kevin Johnson

Production Manager: James  Ricks

Run Time: About 2 ½ hours with one intermission

Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.

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Photo Credits: David Parrish Photography