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The Nutcracker Shines. Shea’s Sparkles.

THE BASICS: Neglia Ballet Artists, The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, and Shea’s team up for the sixth annual production of Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” – one performance left, Sunday, November 30, 2014 at 2:00 pm at Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main Street, Buffalo, NY.

THUMBNAIL SKETCH: Presented on Christmas eve with a nutcracker doll by the mysterious Herr Drosselmeyer, young Marie later dreams that her home has been invaded by rats and mice, only to be saved by the brave nutcracker. As the dream continues, she grows up and the nutcracker is transformed into a handsome cavalier with whom she travels to the land of sweets.

THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: With many of the roles reprised by the same cast as last year, somehow this year seemed more magical. One difference was the conductor in the pit, the BPO’s new Associate Conductor, Stefan Sanders. Certainly the BPO brought the “A Team” with every section led by its principal player. What I can say for sure is this: at the ending bows Maestro Sanders was led on stage and when he pointed to and applauded his musicians, the audience erupted with cheers. So, I don’t think it was just my impression alone that the music was superb.

Two performances were improved. Japanese exchange student (at Buf Sem) Yuha Tomita was once again Marie, and there’s nothing like experience and another year of dancing to give you confidence. Why did Vincent O’Neill (of the Irish Classical Theatre) improve? I think it’s because he recently starred in “The Would Be Gentleman” at Kleinhans with the BPO playing the music by Richard Strauss. Who can say, but he seemed more of the mysterious magician and less of the doting uncle this year, and it worked.

It was a convention in many early 19th century operas to insert a ballet (or two) in the middle of the action, ballets which had absolutely nothing to do with the opera plot. And, it was the convention of 19th century ballets to provide opportunities to showcase the dancers in solos, pas de deux, trios, and ensembles which also had nothing to do with the plot. I can see a pre-teen dreaming of snowflakes, cupcakes, or flowers but why Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, and Russian dancers? However, we wouldn’t give up the music by Tchaikovsky, so who cares why?

Cool things to mention in the car on the way home: Towards the end of the second act, when the Cavalier moves around the entire stage in a circle, landing on one leg on one leg before spinning, those moves are called “grands jetes en tournant.” During the music for “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” the instrument that sounds like bells is actually a keyboard instrument called a celeste (say “chuh-LEST”). Marie is danced by a local high school student but so is one of the mirlitons (Benjamin Reading is a senior at City Honors). And what is a “mirliton?” Well, it’s a vegetable used in Cajun cooking, but that’s not what Tchaikovsky was thinking of. A mirliton is also a kazoo like instrument which some people call a “reed flute” and in this ballet, the music is played not by a reed instrument (oboe, English horn, or clarinet) but just by flutes.

We’ve mentioned the dancers and the orchestra, but kudos must go to Shea’s which continues to improve the theater. It’s always a special place, but during the holidays, it also seems to sparkle more.

Just one more performance left, Sunday, November 30, 2014 at 2:00 pm at Shea’s Performing Arts Center.

Buffalo-four

*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)

ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.

TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.

THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.

FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.

FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!

 

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Written by Peter Hall

Peter Hall

If you enjoy public radio and television in Buffalo, you’ve probably heard or seen Peter Hall asking you for money. He’s the co-host of “Theater Talk” with Anthony Chase (Friday mornings at 6:45 and 8:45 a.m. on WBFO, 88.7 FM) and is the afternoon drive host on Classical 94.5 / WNED where he also produces and hosts “Buffalo Philharmonic Live” (Sundays at 5 p.m. repeating Tuesdays at 11 p.m.) broadcasting BPO performances conducted by JoAnn Falletta. Around town he’s the emcee for Buffalo Chamber Music Society concerts, the Falletta competition, and the Camerata di Sant’Antonio concerts. If you see him at a play or musical with a pen in his hand, he’s probably writing a review for buffalorising.com.

In past lives he has been a Director of Membership for Western New York Public Broadcasting (PBS and NPR), a Director of Marketing for Canisius College, and before that was a Director of Marketing for Fisher-Price. He feels fortunate to have worked for some of the most trusted brands in Western New York.

Growing up in the Amherst school system, music, the arts, literature, outdoor activities, and teaching were important in his family. His grandfather, the painter W.J. Schwanekamp, has works on display at the Burchfield-Penney. His father was a high school English teacher and his mother was a public librarian. In high school, in addition to running track and cross country and being in the ski club, Peter played various instruments in the orchestra, had leading roles in the plays, and was an editor of the high school newspaper. Peter holds a B.A. in Comparative Literature from Columbia University and an M.B.A. from SUNY at Buffalo. For over twenty years he has taught undergraduate and graduate classes at Canisius College’s Richard J. Wehle School of Business.

Depending on the season, on weekends he can be seen riding with the Niagara Frontier Bicycle Club or teaching downhill skiing at Kissing Bridge.

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