THE BASICS: THE NUTCRACKER, Tchaikovsky’s ballet presented by Neglia Ballet Artists, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Stefan Sanders, and Shea’s, with choreography by Sergio Neglia and Heidi Halt, presented the first of its two shows, Saturday November 25 at 7:00 p.m. with a matinee, that ran November 26 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center 646 Main St, Buffalo, NY 14202 (1-800-745-3000) www.sheas.org. Runtime: a little over two hours with one intermission. Full service bar, coffee, treats, souvenirs and tree ornaments.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: On Christmas Eve, at a large family gathering, young Marie is teased by her brother with a dead mouse and later is given a doll-sized nutcracker/soldier. As she falls asleep, she dreams of an attack by mice fought off by her beloved nutcracker, who is then transformed into a handsome prince, and together they wander and dance in the land of sweets.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: After this stressful year, certainly the large (estimated 2,100) audience seemed to be ready for this holiday tradition in its ninth year and were treated to a crisp collaboration between Tchaikovsky, Neglia, the BPO, and Shea’s. Since 1891 there have been many changes to the ballet, and I can’t say if there were any cuts this year compared to previous years at Shea’s, but it did seem to me and others that things moved along more briskly than in the past. Even if the material were unchanged, one enjoyable difference was the apparent lack of egos on stage, as everyone seemed to be focused on the production, not themselves.
And everyone on stage seemed genuinely happy to be there. The dancers were enthusiastic and energetic. With the great number of professional Broadway touring companies coming to Shea’s these days, audience expectations are high, and this production did not disappoint.
With a reported cast and crew of 140 people, singling anyone out is fraught with peril…
With a reported cast and crew of 140 people, singling anyone out is fraught with peril, but Adrien Malof (last seen in Neglia’s BABA YAGA), a junior at BAVPA, part of the Buffalo City School System, performed beautifully, smoothly, and consistently on point as young Marie. She is also one of the Snowflakes (several of whom do double duty as Flowers) all of whom I will praise for three reasons. First, because if one of the jobs of this annual ballet is to introduce young girls to the arts, that audience needs some role models, and I believe they got those. The other reason is that the professional adults are going to be good (it’s their job) and the younger kids (angels and cupcakes for example) are so damn cute it’s even more fun the less “professional” they are but a solid corps de ballet kept this production to the level expected. And the third reason is that I have noticed for the past ten years or so that younger classical musicians (“these kids today”) are surprisingly accomplished. I was happy to see that this trend extends to the dance.
Was it all perfection? No. Some of the lifts in the character dances were labored. And the sets are a bit tired. Yes, I get it. Shea’s stage is ENORMOUS and hard to fill. But it’s starting to look less like a cloudy fantasy land and more like Miss Havisham’s wedding dress. Also, are we trying to save money on stage fog during the second act opening angel’s dance? Come on.
A final thought: Parents who are desperate to have their children put down the damn cell phones and engage with them have a great opportunity to do that here.
What’s next for the Shea’s group of theaters? Road Less Traveled Productions presents IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A RADIO PLAY on stage at Shea’s 710 Theatre while O’Connell and Company presents a Christmas comedy, THE FARNDALE…CHRISTMAS at Shea’s Smith Theatre, 658 Main Street, both opening Friday, December 1st. And, later in December, it’s THE LION KING.
*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!