In what has become a not-so-family-friendly holiday tradition, Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker is back at the Triple Door for its eighth season. A playful, glittering spectacle, this burlesque take on Nutcracker is the perfect way to get in the mood—the holiday mood of course. Conceived, developed, designed, and produced by Jasper McCann and Lily Verlaine, the show is only loosely based on the ballet classic. Variety acts source characters from the divertissements and jazzy variations of the Tchaikovsky score make up most of the music.
The show opened with a delightful interactive skit where McCann entered as the conductor to the sound of tuning instruments. He led the audience through a series of vocalizations using only his baton, effectively warming up the crowd for a night full of hooting and hollering. McCann came back later as the evening’s schmaltzy MC, whose introductions loosely strung the various acts together.
Ms. Verlaine, along with contributions from the cast, was responsible for the choreography, and this year there was no shortage of dance on the docket. The opening ensemble number played with classic showgirl-style formations. Well rehearsed, if a little reserved, it soon gave way to an exciting tap dancing strip tease that had zero reservations. Props for serious pointe work skill go to Laurel Bordeaux, Tory Tiara, and Paris Original for numerous appearances throughout the show. Each dazzled audiences not just with their technique but with their grabbing stage presence and facial expressions. The “Spanish” duet between Tiara and Trojan Original was full of technique, chemistry, spunk, and choreographic ingenuity. The two nailed tricky extensions directly from attitude turns, and they seamlessly blended snappy stripping and clever play as bull and matador.
Another technical highlight was the “Tea Twins” pointe duet with Bordeaux and Paris Original, whose facial expressions had the audience in stitches. Verlaine showed her own extensive ballet training and excellent lines in her variation on “Coffee.” Supported by Trojan and Paris Original, she barely ever graced the floor as she moved effortlessly between sultry poses.
Other notable acts included The Aerial Suites, who brought a thrilling combination of grace and strength with their aerial lyra routine, and a charming dance by Babette La Fave, who performed behind a curtain in silhouette. Perfectly timed balls of light appeared to playfully respond to her movements and bounce off various body parts as she danced. Waxie Moon also performed a strip interpretation of the Rat King, which felt true to rat nature—messy, wild, and grossly funny. It provided a welcome respite from the pristine, presentational quality of the rest of the show.
A common pitfall of burlesque is that it can become formulaic—the dancer removes clothing items with a few steps or arm flourishes in between. Land of the Sweets, on the other hand is chock full of variety, excellent dance, and creative choreography that keeps the show far from monotony. The storyline that ties each act together, however, could have been more compelling. McCann sang several original songs with gusto and skill, but they were completely drowned out in the shows many, many other acts, and his schmaltzy MC schtick grew a bit tiresome after a while. Not having a Clara or Nutcracker character seemed like a lost opportunity to include a love story or a heartwarming “It’s a wonderful life” type parable. Small arc issues aside, the show was highly entertaining, the costumes and sets were a spectacle all on their own, and the stellar dancing was the sugar on top!
Land of the Sweets plays through December 28, 2013 at the Triple Door, often with multiple shows per night. Purchase tickets and find out more through www.landofthesweets.com.