An Explosive Nutcracker To Wow Even Kids Who Think They Hate Ballet

The Nutcracker is a Christmas tradition—and like many holiday standards, it may seem to be one that can't stand up to an age of video games, iPads, and superhero movies. But the Long Beach Ballet, whose production is up until December 24 at the Long Beach Convention Center, has enough pomp, glitz, glamour, wildlife, and explosions—yes, actual explosions—to wow even the most tough-to-please kids (or jaded grown-ups).

While all of the usual elements of the classic ballet are on deck, from the Snowflake Queen to the dancing toys and Sugar Plum Fairy, this version has touches of humor as well as pyrotechnics and an actual horse (luckily, not while the pyrotechnics were happening) to keep audiences who may not be well acquainted with the art of ballet entertained. While the horse just steps across the stage briefly, it's a surprise that also reflects how exciting and downright delightful this entire production is. Even young kids will likely be impressed by the sumptuous costumes, the enormous cast of more than 200 (some of them adorable little kids), and the live orchestra (a rare treat among local productions). Older kids will appreciate a moonwalking—and very funny—Mouse King, and while the pyrotechnics are loud enough to scare very small kids (I jumped in my seat, to tell the truth), they add some welcome excitement to the battle between Clara and the mice. 

Don't worry about taking your kids to a dialogue-free, two-hour live performance—you won't be the only families in the audience by a long shot. During the performance I attended with my family, the sounds of kids babbling and crying sometimes made the ballet feel a little bit more like a Mommy and Me class than an evening event, but you'll hardly notice given the incredible orchestra and sets designed by former Disney designers. There is always something amazing to look at during this production, and it's easy for parents to redirect attention with so much happening. 

Chances are even the most patient little ones will get squirmy, of course, but the good news is that there's an intermission, and a hot dog-themed food truck and pretzel kiosk are parked just outside the hall (there are also several spots for drinks and food inside the indoor lobby). Your personal food and drink aren't allowed inside, so leave snacks in the car for the ride home. Most importantly, make sure everyone heads to the bathroom before the show; the lines to the women's rooms during the intermission were long enough to make getting in before the show restarted a dicey proposition.

While a production of this magnitude isn't a cheap outing (prices start at $42), ballet is a great way to introduce little ones to live performance—especially if you prepare yourself and the kids. Talk to them about the story before you go, and consider adding one of the great picture books about Tchaikovsky's ballet to your nighttime reading rotation (there's also some history about the production on the website). Explain that you'll answer questions after the performance so you're not peppered with non-stop queries during the show, and so little kids get a chance to be quietly awed by the fabulous dancing and beautiful costumes. Consider an early performance, as the 7:30 show may be past many kids' bedtimes (I found out the hard way how challenging it is to carry my sleeping five-year-old down a flight of steps). 

For many kids, The Nutcracker is their first introduction to ballet, and with dancing toys and mouse villains, there is a lot for little ones to like. The Long Beach Ballet production is definitely the thing to pull them away from their apps and iPads, if only for a few hours.

The Nutcracker has multiple performances  remaining, December 22-24, 2017 at the Terrace Theater at the Long Beach Convention Center.

Photos by Katie Ging


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