Off-Broadway Theater Review: NUTCRACKER ROUGE (Minetta Lane Theatre)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on December 4, 2013

in Theater-New York


Katrina Cunningham (singing) and Jeff Takacs as Monsieur Drosselmeyer (seated) in Nutcracker Rouge Photographer: Phillip Van NostrandA show can be forgiven many things when its characters are compelling and its dramatics are solid; if the audience is emotionally involved in the fate of the personages, they won’t notice or won’t so much care about the little problems, the little mistakes. Conversely, if we have nothing to absorb us emotionally, no compelling story to hold our attention, our minds wander, picking at flaws here and there–flaws which in a moving show might well have been overlooked. This is the case with the visually beautiful but unsatisfying Nutcracker Rogue, a dark, sexual burlesque reimagining of The Nutcracker, conceived, choreographed and directed by Austin McCormick.

Shelly Watson as Madame Drosselmeyer, Laura Careless as Marie-Claire and Jeff Takacs as Monsieur Drosselmeyer in Nutcracker Rouge Photographer: Phillip Van NostrandAfter Marie (Laura Careless) is given a nutcracker toy as a present, she finds herself with it in a winter wood that night, and is invited into a castle she comes upon. The interior looks like the backstage of a burlesque theater, full of very skimpily and suggestively dressed men and women–dancers and circus performers–of fluid sexualities who indulge in an assortment of fetishes. This troupe is lorded over by Drosselmeyer (Jeff Takacs, who also authored the text) and Mrs. Drosselmeyer (Shelly Watson); most of Nutcracker Rogue is devoted to the dancers and circus performers plying their trade.

Cast members of Nutcracker Rouge Photographer: Phillip Van NostrandWe are treated to some remarkable displays of flexibility, athleticism and physicality. But even the best ones–circus artist Nicolas Maffey’s incredible gymnastics comes to mind–absent any meaningful story and character development carry the weight of feats, not theater. In addition, many of the individual numbers lack the virtuosity needed to stand alone; they are good but not amazing. Dancers’ movements don’t feel as light and effortless as they should, and without a dramatic center to draw the eye much of the choreography feels unfocused.

Kana Kimura and Davon Rainey in Nutcracker Rouge Photographer: Robert ZashThe singing, though it would have been more than adequate as part of a well-structured theatrical piece, is not powerful enough to stand on its own, especially when contrasted against recordings of Tchaikovsky’s music. Mr. Takacs’ text is uninspired to say the least, and although he is cast well physically–tall and broad with a black beard–he lacks stage presence and menace; there’s little to inspire confidence that he could be the ruler over this house of kink. In fact, despite all the kinky outfits and suggestive choreography, there is never a sense of danger or perversity in Nutcracker Rogue, which makes the climax feel unnecessary and meaningless.

The real stars of Nutcracker Rogue are Zane Pihlstrom’s gorgeous costumes and set, and Jeanette Yew’s fantastic lighting. Together they create a substantial, magical world that is beautiful and mysterious, sinister and seductive. Unfortunately, the Shelly Watson as Madame Drosselmeyer (singing in center) and cast members of Nutcracker Rouge Photographer: Robert Zashother elements in the show can’t match their excellence. And this is the irony: The look of this production is so powerfully evocative it demands that every other element live up to that standard. I can’t help thinking that were this some little tongue-in-cheek no-budget neo-vaudeville-type spectacle, it likely would have worked much better on the whole; there is inherent drama in seeing great skills demonstrated where one isn’t expecting to see them. But in a show whose look is so dynamic, so specific, a mere demonstration of skills by performers won’t do; every element must be at the very least equal in artistic weight to the decorations. In Mr. McCormick’s creation that just isn’t the case.

Additional performers are Rose Bonjo, Courtney Giannone, Benn Mendoza, Marisol Cabrera, Katrina Cunningham, Molly Griffin, Jakob Karr, Nicholas Katen, Kana Kimura, Tyler Philips, Davon Rainey and Alison Ulrich.

Laura Careless as Marie-Claire and Cassady Rose Bonjo as Nutcracker Doll in Nutcracker Rouge Photographer: Robert Zashphotos by Robert Zash
and Phillip Van Nostrand

Nutcracker Rogue
Company XIV and The Saint At Large
Minetta Lane Theater
scheduled to end on January 12, 2014
for tickets, call 800-745-3000
or visit

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