Hip Hop Hooray For The Hip Hop Nutcracker

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The Hip Hop Nutcracker

The year was 1991. My girlfriend at that time dropped some not so subtle hints that she’d like for me to take her to see THE NUTCRACKER at the Fabulous Fox Theatre. I’d always heard the Fox was an amazing venue, and I had just finished my senior year of high school where I had developed a late interest in theatre. I saved all my tip money from waiting tables at Pizza Hut for a few weeks and then bought us the best seat I could afford. When we get there I’m absolutely blown away by the intricacies of the “Siamese Byzantine” décor.  The house lights fade to dark, the orchestra began to launch into the first verse and the ensemble bounded onto the stage. My jaw dropped, and I looked at my girlfriend with a suspicious stare. “You didn’t tell me this was a ballet!” We broke up about a week later.

That was how I was introduced to the story and the music of THE NUTCRACKER, ninety-nine years after Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov’s original choreography and Pyotr Illych Tchaikovsky’s score debuted at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia. Fast forward 25 years and there I was again, settling in for another performance of THE NUTCRACKER at St. Louis’ beloved theatre destination. Only this time, there was a twist: No ballet! This was THE HIP HOP NUTCRACKER, produced by the Fox Theatre and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, which updates the holiday classic for the 21st century

While much of Tchaikovsky’s music is played in the traditional style, DJ Boo dropped some fresh beats into the production. The story isn’t particularly different; Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker, Drosselmeyer and the Mouse King, all of the usual suspects are present. Replacing ballet for the modern street dance aesthetic was an inspired idea, and the cast of hip hop dancers was thrilling to watch as they popped and locked, krush-grooved and electric boogalooed across the Fox stage.

When you think “Hip Hop” you probably immediately think of the major hubs of that genre—Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, and so forth. The cast of THE HIP HOP NUTCRACKER rather surprisingly hails from all over the planet! Beautiful Ann -Sylvia Clark (Maria-Clara) is a native of Norway, whose talents have led to perform with the likes of Snoop Dogg, Pharrell Williams and Alicia Keys just to name a few. Her Puerto Rican-born counterpart Josue Figuero (The Nutcracker) worked on the STEP UP film franchise. Stunning Tampa-based dancer Yorelis Apolinario (Mom) competed on SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE Season 12. Her stage partner JD Rainey (Dad), is a LA resident originally from Seattle, who competes with his dance crew “Massive Monkees.”  SHEstreet (Drosselmeyer) is an unforgettable name for an unforgettable Memphis-born talent.  The Ensemble includes Dance Captain Randi “Mouse King” Fleckenstine of Los Angeles, Ricky “Snow King” Flores of Massachusetts, LLlilana Frias of Mexico, Illjaz Jusufi from Macedonia , Alex Laya of Chicago, Maria Malmstrom from Sweden and Evan Moody out of Raleigh, North Carolina. Chicagoan David Marks soloed beautifully on the violin in several numbers. On select dates you might have the good fortune to see hip Hop legend Kurtis Blow appear as the show’s host.  I thought everyone in the troupe brought some unique talents to the stage, particularly Mr. Jusufi, who on more than one occasion spun on his head in the impressive but potentially dangerous tradition of the 80s breakdance scene.  JD Rainey looks like he could have had a career as a professional football player given his size, but he moves as lightly as the traditional ballet dancer who would typically be in his role.  Ann-Sylvia Clark and Yorelis Apolinario are mesmerizingly beautiful and fluid dancers and SHEstreet played the erstwhile villain Drosselmeyer as more of a Puck-ish enabler of magic and mystery instead of a fiendish spirit.

Unfortunately I caught the show on the home stretch of the tour, and the only remaining dates are three nights in Charlotte, North Carolina at the Knight Theatre. Keep THE HIP HOP NUTCRACKER in mind for next year, and if the show stops in St. Louis again, treat yourself to an exciting mash-up of 19th Century classical music and 21st Century hip hop dance. It’s an unusual mix, but it works beautifully. For more about the show and the remarkable talents performing in it, check out HipHopNutcracker.com/#tours


4.5 / 5.0