The Nutcracker

892c573686ce7c4ce7a9c8b4b9053750c09f3afdThe Nutcracker is an annual choreography performance put on by Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School’s dance department. Dancers from second grade up to twelfth appeared in this rendition for the weekend-long event.

Based on the 1816 novel by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and the music composed by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, The Nutcracker is about a young girl named Clara who is gifted a nutcracker at her family’s Christmas Eve party by her magical godfather, Drosselmeyer. That night, she dreams of a heroic nutcracker soldier defending her from an army of mice. Then, Clara and the nutcracker embark on a journey through a magical land of snow and sweets until she wakes up, still holding the nutcracker that was given to her.

In any sort of choreography, the dancers have to be disciplined in order to perfect the techniques and balancing required to perform this advanced level of dancing. They have to learn how to keep going despite any costuming difficulties, or if they were to fall, trip, and so on. Dance performances are not only about the footwork but also about the facial expressions. It is almost like acting — they have to exaggerate their facials in order to portray emotion (especially since there are no speaking parts) — all the while keeping a bright smile on their faces.

These dancers did just that. They depicted immense amounts of discipline as they effortlessly performed the routines with poise and a grin. From what my eyes could see, I did not see a single mistake made by the dancers. And if there was one, they covered it up so well that I thought it to be part of the dance. Both the Center and dance department did astonishing work at training these students/dancers.

The strength these dancers behold is unimaginable. They require so much arm strength in order to pick and toss each other up. One of my favorite duos has to be the Scottish Macaroons (Olivia Tarchick and Jacob Butterfield). They executed multiple tosses and holding while Tarchick held poses and swung around in Butterfield’s arms as he held her high up. The grand applause they received from the audience was deserved.

There was one major variation to this performance than from most versions that I have seen. When Clara (Jocelyn Scullion) and Fritz (Josh Lyda) are fighting over the nutcracker, instead of one of the arms breaking off, the head snaps off. But then, Drosselmeyer (Rosh Raines) magically fixes the broken gift. In most renditions, the arm breaks off and is “fixed” by giving the arm a makeshift sling. Then while Clara dreams that night, the nutcracker appears with the sling on (which, later on, his arm magically heals).

For as old as The Nutcracker is (the first performance being in 1892), it is said that the sugar plum fairy dance is one of the more difficult numbers in the production. Macy Minear, who played the Sugar Plum Fairy, made that number seem effortless. Even whenever the ribbon from one of her pointe shoes came loose, she continued on as if nothing ever happened. Minear remained ongoing as she danced, not allowing the ribbon to get in the way.

Along with the older form of The Nutcracker, we see an original version of the Mouse King (Jacob Butterfield) that is not shown quite often in performances. In the book, The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, the Mouse King is depicted as having seven heads. Then, when Butterfield came out on stage at the Center, there was the gigantic mask with seven little mouse faces forming a circle around the wearer’s head, and a crown on top. Typically, the Mouse King is shown in performances with only one normal head.

A fun fact about the Mainstage Theater stage at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center is that it is twice the size of the Byham Theater’s. At the beginning of the show, only a small portion of the stage was available as they had a wintery backdrop closing off the rest. After small groups walked from one side to the other, mimicking families on the way to the Christmas Eve party, the backdrop became transparent, thus revealing the rest of the stage. This showed us two maids (Paige Mathieson and Alexandra Trimber) preparing for the guests to arrive as they twirled and dusted about.

Although The Nutcracker is over, tickets are on sale for the next upcoming musical, The Great Gatsby. You can see this at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland, Pennsylvania from February 16-18 and 23-25. Tickets range from $15 and $20 and can be purchased online at lincolnparkarts.org.

Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center Dreams Bigger

1916154_1277051875645173_4367323203200371281_nFor their 11th year of performances, Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center is introducing their 2017-2018 season – “Dream Bigger,” beginning on October 6, 2017, through June 24, 2018. This season is unlike any theatre or shows they produce. Apart from the plays and musicals, there will be two ballets performed. During the construction of the LPP Arts Center and Charter School in Midland, the town coined the “Build the Dream.” After that dream was built, and 11 years since, the Center is now expanding their dream in this season.

Justin Fortunato, the artistic director of the Center, is the creative mind behind this season. He chose each of the 8 shows that encompass the theme of “Dream Bigger.” “From a flying nanny helping a family in need to the American dream, to dreaming about one’s impact on the world, this season challenges us to push our perceptions of what is possible. Lincoln Park as an organization is also growing and developing based on the dreams that were dreamt a little over a decade ago when it was created,” Said Justin Fortunato.

A special component of the Center is that the students from the accompanying Charter School are encouraged to audition for these productions. Anyone with the passion to sing, act, and/or dance is more than welcome to audition. From students to resident artists, professionals, and even teachers – all are welcome to perform.

Mary-Poppins-iconThe season will kick off with everyone’s beloved nanny in Mary Poppins from October 6-8, 13-15, and 20-22. This production will feature spectacular flying illusions and amazing costumes. Based on the original book by P.L. Travers, featuring songs from the Walt Disney film, this is a magical and ‘supercalifragilisticexpialidocious’ way to start a bigger dream.

James-Peach-iconFrom November 10-12 and 17-19, audiences can embark on a journey traveling in and over-sized fruit in James and the Giant Peach Jr. This will be Lincoln Park’s third junior production. It will mostly feature a younger casting, with middle school students and below. Based on Roald Dahl’s novel, you can join a young boy, an insect, and their gargantuan juicy vessel.

Wonderful-Life-iconLincoln Park will begin their holiday cheer with It’s A Wonderful Life December 1-3 and 8-10. Inspired by Frank Capra’s film. Sticking with the season’s theme, the story follows a man, George Bailey, who is always chasing a dream just out of reach.  He then meets his guardian angel, who puts him in a dreamlike state, or nightmare, so that he can see what life would be like had he never been born.  This American classic has love, tragedy and plenty of laughs, and is a great way to start the winter holiday.

Nutcracker-iconThe Nutcracker concludes the holiday season from December 14-17. Performed by Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School’s own dance students, this combines Tchaikovsky’s famous melodic pieces and E.T.A Hoffman’s story. Featuring over 50 high school dancers, this performance will have the audience dreaming of sugarplums.

Great-Gatsby-iconBased on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novella, The Great Gatsby will be performed from February 16-18 and 23-25. In this haunting rendition, audiences follow Nick Carroway when he meets Jay Gatsby. Carroway eventually learns of Gatsby’s obsession with the gorgeous girl next door.

Another performance by Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School will grace the stage with Sleeping Beauty Dance Upon A Dream. This classic tale will leave anyone awake and breathless from March 16-18 and 23-25.

Big-Fish-iconRight from Broadway on April 20-22, 27-29, and May 4-6, Lincoln Park presents Big Fish. One of Lincoln Park’s most technically ambitious shows performed, this production is about family and adventure. From Daniel Wallace’s acclaimed novel and Tim Burton’s film rendition, the show focuses on Edward Bloom, a traveling salesman with extraordinary tales. But when his son, Will, is going to have a son of his own, he tries to sort out his father’s tall tales.

Ragtime-iconLincoln Park’s 2017-2018 “Dream Bigger” season ends with Ragtime the Musical. During the high-time of the melting pot that is New York, this show features three different kinds of families: an upper-class wife, a Jewish immigrant, and a Harlem musician as they face the challenges during that time. This will be performed June 15-17 and 22-24.

 

“I look forward to seeing our young aspiring artists – our students – doing what they love and all of the talent, energy, and enthusiasm they bring to each and every performance!” Said Stephen Catanzarite, who helped with the marketing and promotion of the series, about this upcoming season. Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center’s hometown of Midland waited anxiously for the dream to be built. Now that it is, they are making the theatre world, and student’s dreams bigger with this season. “I look forward to opening our season on October 6 with Mary Poppins and continuing through June 24, 2018 with Ragtime. This season is full of beautiful moments, and programming for the entire family!”

 

The Nutcracker

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I’ve attended the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production of The Nutcracker countless times. I went as a young, aspiring dancer growing up, and in the past few years, have the renewed the tradition as an adult. This year, as any other, I was dazzled.

As I mentioned in a previous article, the PBT’s production of The Nutcracker is set in Gilded Age Pittsburgh, in a Shadyside home (where the Kaufmann and Heinz families are guests). The giant clock mounted at the proscenium is modeled after the old Kaufmann’s clock, and during “The Waltz of the Snowflakes,” the backdrop becomes an antique view from Mt. Washington. It’s a delightful change that brings the story closer to home for the audience.

The opening scenes at the Christmas party are full of energetic and joyful, full of laughs, magic tricks, and humorous characters. The journey through the woods is transcendent (and my favorite), and the Land of Enchantment is full of, well, enchantment, and a circus-like display of vibrant colors and dancing. I enjoyed how Marie was portrayed a bit differently this year: playful and curious as a girl on the brink of an adventure ought to be, and less like the typical, innocent damsel waiting for her Prince Charming. Less Cinderella, more Alice. A refreshing characterization.

The sets, costumes, and choreography amazed everyone in the audience, as usual. Snowflakes falling, a Christmas tree growing larger than life, impossible clown cars, and spinning carousels descending from the sky left nothing to the imagination. The lead dancers were all on point (no pun intended), the ensemble routines were gracefully in-sync, and the youngest little dancers charmed as sheep, mice, and bumblebees.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve seen this production many time but not much changes from year to year. The costumes and choreography remain largely the same. This could be taken as a criticism, but instead I think of it as watching one of your favorite holiday films or making a family recipe– A Christmas Story and grandma’s cookies don’t change from year to year either, but they’re just as delightful every time. PBT has found something that works, and works well. It makes sense to stick with it.

The PBT dancers are extremely talented and their art is commendable, but I’d argue that what has really helped this production stand the test of time is making the ballet accessible to everyone. For children that have never been to a ballet before, for adults that think ballet is boring or snobby, and for the die-hard ballet supporters, all the same, here is laughter at the clowns’ and antics, and awe at the Sugar Plum Fairy’s and Cavalier’s pas de deux. It’s the perfect mix of holiday and Pittsburgh nostalgia to tickle everyone’s memories in some way.DSC_9831-1

My only real issue with this production is the lack of live musicians. Tchaikovsky’s music always deserves a full orchestra.  It’s a shame to miss out on that, but it’s certainly understandable why they opt for a recording instead. Either way, it’s difficult to remain disappointed however you listen to Tchaikovsky’s score. Each movement is like a special treat, just as familiar as a favorite Christmas carol.

The Nutcracker is playing at the Benedum until December 27. The Benedum is stunning at this time of year, and this show is perfect as a family outing or a date night. It’s a wonderful Christmas activity to add to your list (and perhaps a tradition to begin). You can purchase tickets and read more about the show hereSpecial thanks to the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for complimentary press tickets.

Photos courtesy of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

5 Holiday Shows You Don’t Want to Miss

December has crept up on us faster than the Grinch stole every last present in Whoville. Luckily for us, the holiday season in Pittsburgh means some of the best, festive shows around. We’ve rounded up a few of our favorite upcoming productions that are sure to fill you with holiday cheer, whether you’re Buddy the Elf or Mr. Scrooge.

Midnight Radio’s Holiday Spectacular!, Bricolage Production Company

Midnight Radio’s Holiday Spectacular!Holiday radio programs have been a nostalgic staple in this country ever since kids were decoding crummy commercials for Ovaltine in the 40’s. Bricolage Production Company  continues their popular series, Midnight Radio, to bring this beloved Christmas entertainment to life! Midnight Radio’s Holiday Spectacular! is in the form of a 1940’s radio broadcast where you are the live studio audience. Raucous humor, classic stories, and Pittsburgh-themed spoofs can be expected every night, but be sure to check the schedule for special events like an Ugly Sweater Contest, photos with Mr. & Mrs. Claus, local musical guests, and a hands-on sound effects workshop! The show runs downtown from December 1- 17.

The Nutcracker, Pittsburgh Ballet Theater

Pittsburgh Ballet Theater’s brings the Tchaikovsky’s classic, The Nutcracker, closer to home. Rather than the 19th century Germany setting, this version begins in a beautiful old home in Shadyside during the Gilded Age. A number of characters and props are homages to famous Pittsburghers like Heinz, Carnegie, and especially the Kaufmanns, and the set will give you a glimpse of the Mt. Washington view from a hundred years ago. Stunning costumes, choreography, moving sets and magic tricks never fail to delight audiences of all ages. Don’t miss this dazzling, dancing tradition at the Benedum, December 2- 27.

A Christmas Carol, Little Lake Theatre

Don’t be fooled– this isn’t the same story you’ve heard before! In this funny little twist from Little Lake Theatre, a comedic adaptation of this Dickens’ favorite is done a la Groundhog Day, as Scrooge is forced to relive his ghostly Christmas Eve journey year after year. A Christmas Carol is the perfect family festivity from a faithful cast that considers performing at Little Lake to be part of their own holiday traditions. This show will be shaking things up like the bells on Santa’s sleigh, so go see it from December 1- 18.

 

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, Pittsburgh Playhouse

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever: The MusicalPoint Park University’s Conservatory Theatre Company brings you this unconventional Christmas comedy. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever  follows the six Herdman children, AKA the “worst children in the world,” who have been known to shoplift and smoke cigars. Upon hearing that snacks are served at church, the children weasel their way into playing in their Sunday School’s annual Christmas pageant, and chaos and holiday hilarity ensue. This show runs December 9- 18 at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

 

Naughty or Nice 2: A Holiday Concert, PARK Productions

Sugar, spice, and everything (naughty or) nice. PARK Productions is continuing their successful holiday extravaganza, featuring all kinds of holiday tunes performed by a pianist, and you! Yes, you! “Naughty or Nice 2” is an open-mic show encouraging audience sign-ups from groups and individuals to perform any Christmas carol of their choosing– but the “raunchier the better.” This show is one of a kind and ONE NIGHT ONLY on December 10th at The Cabaret. Get tickets and sign-up to perform here, because we all know that the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.

 

Tickets for all of these shows are on sale now! Get yours and get in the Christmas spirit. Plus, stay tuned for our reviews of these shows and so much more this season!

Oh, and remember…