Years ago we saw a preview of the Urban Nutcracker during Opening Our Doors Day, and I have wanted to see the full production since. However, I thought it might be a little too intense for my kids, so I decided to wait until they were older.
When we saw a performance during opening weekend as guests of the Urban Nutcracker, I realized that waiting was completely unnecessary. In fact, Tony Williams’ Urban Nutcracker is an ideal introduction to the ballet. The atmosphere is relaxed, the variety of dance styles keeps young children engaged, and the diverse cast is full of kids who young audience members can connect to. Best of all, the Urban Nutcracker makes going to the ballet fun. Here are the top ten reasons I recommend taking kids to see the Urban Nutcracker, plus a few tips for getting the most out of the experience.
1. One-of-a-kind. From the moment the Doo-wop singers start down the aisles, you know this is going to be a different kind of Nutcracker. I have seen – and performed in – many Nutcracker productions, but I have never experienced anything like the Urban Nutcracker. I enjoyed Tony Williams’ departures from the classic ballet so much, I wanted more.
2. Audience Engagement. There is no invisible "fourth wall." The dancers include the audience in the storytelling, and the audience responds in kind. In a dance-off during the prologue, we felt as though we were in the scene, cheering on friends. And when the classical ballet dancers performed steps requiring almost superhuman strength and stamina, the audience showed their appreciation with more fervor than the traditional polite clap. By the end, we were completely invested in the characters' stories.
3. Sweet Music. Tchaikovsky’s classical score is interspersed with Duke Ellington’s jazzy interpretation, a refreshing departure for even those of us who melt when hearing the original music for the ballet. Plus, there's singing (yep, singing). The Doo-wop singers, who set the mood for the theatrical prologue with the urban street music of the 1950’s and early 1960’s, are a highlight of the show.
4. A celebration of diversity. The cast reflects facets of the great diversity of our city, including socioeconomic status (in case you're wondering, Clara/Clarice's family is still well to-do), race, ethnicity, ability, and just about any other measure of diversity you could imagine. The wide age range represented in the cast is truly refreshing, especially to a middle-aged former dancer like me.
5. Whoa, talent! There are some seriously talented performers gracing the stage of the Urban Nutcracker, from prima ballerinas to hip hop stars.
6. Opportunities for performers to flourish. In addition to the wildly talented featured dancers from the Tony Williams Dance Company, the Urban Nutcracker opens its arms to many young dancers of varying degrees of experience, giving them the opportunity to shine. Having a rotating cast is more than a pragmatic practice; it facilitates the creation of opportunity for even more dancers to have their moment in the spotlight.
7. Variety is the spice of life – and of the Urban Nutcracker. From Hip hop to Doo-wop, pop n' lock to Hippity Hop (yes, you read that right), the Urban Nutcracker is full of surprises. The Urban Nutcracker is a cornucopia of dance styles: classical ballet, urban tap, hip hop, swing, flamenco (Flamenco Dance Project), step, jazz, traditional Chinese, and modern.
8. Art in motion. The set and costumes are so vibrant and fun, I could almost feel energy emanating from them.
9. Dance for all. Although the performers are talented and the dancing is excellent, the Urban Nutcracker isn't high art attainable to only a few. The atmosphere is relaxed and accessible, even for the very young and newcomers to the dance scene. Humor is woven through the entire story by the magician Drosselmeyer and his assistant, Minimeyer (a character unique to and created just for the Urban Nutcracker), making the production far from precious – and lots of fun.
10. It’s Boston, baby. The Urban Nutcracker isn’t just a Boston original, it’s an homage to the city. Boston Strong t-shirts and the exterior city scenes make it clear: This story is happening in Beantown, and Tony Williams wouldn’t have it any other way.
- Take the T. Save yourself a chunk of change or the aggravation of looking for a parking spot. Copley Square is not far, and you could always stop by the library before the show to read with the kids.
- Make a plan for dinner and a dance. Fire & Ice is very close to the theater, and so is a wide range of dining options in Copley Square and at the nearby Prudential Center. Snacks can also be purchased during intermission.
- The storyline is a bit of a departure from the original, and there is a lot of action in some scenes, so kids could easily be confused. Read the synopsis to/with your kids before the start of each act.
- Bring a little bit of cash for mementos. Thankfully, they are reasonably priced.
Photos by Karen Melkonian