It’s the holiday season and time to consider gift ideas! Again! Instead of giving him a subscription to Jelly-Of-The-Month-Club, why not send Cousin Eddie to a cultural event? Because the Monster Truck Rally is sold-out, you choose nosebleed seats to—a BALLET! And that means he’ll be attending The Nutcracker, a beloved (hated) family holiday tradition.
French for “whirligig”, a ballet is a story set to music, choreographed by anorexic retired ballerinas, and danced by little Whoville “Whos” who later audition for So You Think You Can Dance With The Stars, Idiot?! The Nutcracker is based on a fairy tale set to music by the Russian Pyotr Ilyich (“Itchy”) Tchaikovsky, who also wrote the music for A Christmas Carol, A Christmas Story, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, It’s a Wonderful Life, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Home Alone 12, Bad Santa, and The Hound of the Baskervilles. Written in 1892, The Nutcracker was instantly popular until its debut later that year at Christmas, and has been thrilling (horrifying) the parents of young dance recital participants ever since.
The story opens at a Christmas party at the Stalebum home in a small 1950’s Indiana town. The Stalebum children Ralphie and CindyLoo Who (adopted) decorate the house and greet the guests. CindyLoo’s godfather, Dr. Droesselmeyer Griswold, arrives with gifts: a Red Ryder BB gun for Ralphie, an Italian leg lamp for Mr. Stalebum, and a little man toy nutcracker for CindyLoo. When the conflicted Ralphie decides he’d rather have the nutcracker, there’s a struggle and the toy is purloined and broken. Not to be outdone purloin-wise, Griswold quickly fixes the nutcracker for Cindyloo and staggers back to the eggnog bowl.
After the party ends, the Stalebums retire. A scampering mouse awakens CindyLoo who discovers her boy toy is missing. Off she goes to find it as giant rats attack her. Then, appearing as if from a fantasy scene out of some story dance, life-sized toy soldiers led by her valiant Nutcracker come to CindyLoo’s rescue. The Rat King attacks the Nutcracker, but CindyLoo distracts him with a present (iPhone) from under the tree and the Nutcracker wins the battle. Afterwards, the Nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince (balding Jewish house painter from New York). He leads CindyLoo through the magical Land of Snow because he has the urge to gather a few chestnuts, but he soon discovers that CindyLoo is a tough nut to crack, metaphorically speaking.
In Act 2 the Nutcracker and CindyLoo go to the Land of Sweets where the Sugar Plum Fairy (stage name) honors CindyLoo with dances performed by the inhabitants of her kingdom. There is the Spanish Dance, (representing Chocolate and Nutella), an Arabian Dance for coffee (Decaf Sumatra, full-bodied, with a smooth mouthfeel and hints of camel hump fur), a Chinese Dance for tea (Panda Dung—yes, it’s a real tea), a Russian Dance (representing evil repression in the form of a shirtless Vladimir Putin), the Dance of Madam Ginger (also smooth mouthfeel) and her Clowns, the Waltz of the Flowers (Monkey Face Orchid, The Happy Alien, Hooker’s Lips. Go ahead, Google it), and the Dance of the Mirlitons (stuffed squash casserole often served at drunken Cajun Christmas parties). Then the Sugar Plum Fairy performs her dance solo to the tune of My Boyfriend’s Back.
To conclude the evening CindyLoo and her Nutcracker Cavalier perform a final dance together, the Pas de Deux (pass the dip). The dance has four parts: Andante Maestoso (slow, majestic barn dance), The Nutella (fast dance by the Nutcracker covered in chocolate hazelnut spread), the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (danced by CindyLoo, with a famous melody also made memorable for modern music lovers in Muppets Most Wanted and The Simpsons), and Boot Scootin’ Boogie, a traditional line dance with audience participation.
Finally, in a homographic epiphany CindyLoo realizes her Nutcracker Cavalier might not be so cavalier had she been more forthcoming with her chestnuts. Much to the Nutcracker’s dismay, the music ends with a climax for the TROMBONES! He briefly considers jumping off a bridge until an angel (Clarence Odbody) does his own special dance and they run away together. As for the audience, everyone leaves with new tunes in their heads as memorable as the theme to Gilligan’s Island.
So if you’re searching for the just right Christmas presence this holiday season, grab a hot cuppa Panda Dung and — I triple-dog-dare you — take someone to The Nutcracker. It’s a real ball-buster.
*Another edition in the irritating series "Play Synopses for Modern Readers Ignorant of the Classics".