Binghamton University’s Mainstage production of Jazz Nutcracker, a biennial tradition broken by COVID-19, has finally returned.
Coming to the stage with Choreographer and Director JoEllen Kuhlman — an adjunct lecturer in the theater department — at the helm, the show reimagines the classic Nutcracker by altering the storyline, choreography and soundtrack.
Much of the Act 1 storyline stayed the same as in the original. It begins at a Christmas party — the costumes are mainly dresses and suits. The children, played by students from the wider Binghamton community, are given wonderful presents — toy cowgirls and ballerinas that come to life and dance for them accompanied by “Pass The Duje (Pas de Deux)” by Shorty Rogers and “Doll On a Music Box” from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” by Guy Dearden.
Kuhlman described her background and how it informed the style of the show.
“Being mostly a jazz and tap dancer, the music I chose needed to fit the styles I like to dance, and [to] fit into the swing of the show,” Kuhlman said.
The music revitalized the Nutcracker to create an entirely new show where jazz, tap, ballet and pointe were all performed on stage. Additional elements like snowfall, drums, magic tricks and new set pieces were also present. The Nutcracker — played by Ravin Van Gelder, a junior majoring in dance — comes to life riding a gigantic toy horse and the toy soldiers are awakened with him. They come out carrying drums and drumsticks which are vital to their dances. The clacking of the sticks together overhead and on the drums themselves were part of the music.
This unique feature was most noticeable when they were fighting against the mice who entered the music of “Pink Panther” by Henry Mancini. Dressed from neck to toe in black, they had rat tails and heads attached. The Mouse Queen could be spotted by the glittery pink outlining her neck and between her ears. After the mice’s defeat came the last few numbers of Act 1, featuring the Snow Queen, her snowflakes, and Clara, played by Dior Wright, an undeclared freshman. Clara was dressed in a red dress with golden snowflakes, while the snowflakes themselves were in silver asymmetrical skirts and white leotards — performing ballet and pointe. Snowfall came down from the lighting rig bringing Act 1 to a close. Kuhlman said specific changes were made to Act 2.
“We are now set in Drosselmeyer’s sweet shop and have also switched up a few of our songs,” Kuhlman said. “It’s nice to be able to change things up a bit and keep it fresh and entertaining,” Kuhlman said.
Some songs included were “Hot Chocolate from the Polar Express” by Mike Lewis, “Russian Dance” by Glenn Miller and “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” by Pentatonix. The second act featured a menagerie of dancers, from the waiters running the sweet shop to the candy they served. Lollipops, marzipan, gingerbread, sugar plums and cupcakes were all performed in colorful costumes. The lollipops, for example, were dressed in bright dresses and danced with sashes, while the Sugar Plum Fairy was dressed in a brown leotard with a long sheer purple skirt.
The costume that took the cake, however, was Mother Ginger, played by Tommy Iafrate, an associate professor and director of musical theater at BU, who came out in a giant dress that needed to be moved on wheels. Numerous girls playing cupcakes came out from underneath the dress with hats on their heads that looked like cherries for their entrance and exit. Clara danced alongside many of them, and the Snow Queen also reappeared from the first act. The last song was “Peanut Butter Brittle Brigade (March)” by Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, in which the cast took their bows.
Kuhlman discussed providing recurring holiday entertainment as the reason for putting the show on every year, along with other reasons.
“It was designed to be something we do for the local community as well as the campus community,” Kuhlman said. “Particularly to engage children, both so that they can enjoy it and also to participate in it.”
Overall, the show achieved those goals, creating a kid-friendly show and atmosphere — with a raffle in the lobby to win things like a magician for a kid’s birthday party. However, you would be mistaken to think the show is just for children. The innovative music, storyline and showcase of numerous dance styles make the piece appealing to all students. If you’re a fan of dancing, music and the holiday classics, then this is a show for you.