If Tim Burton could be spiced up a bit, it would be with a little less Helena Bonham Carter and a few more tassels. The Nightmare Before the Nutcracker pulls this off pretty damn well, putting on a thoroughly entertaining show on Friday night. Had there been a block to line up around, it would have happened. The Rio was packed. Inside, the set was simple, leaving more room for performance than anything.
The show, written by Chris Murdoch, is a loose interpretation of The Nutcracker with a cast of Tim Burton characters mixed in. Clara, the heroine kept from the original ballet, is sent to the land of death with her doll, Edward Scissorhands, and must find a way to escape.
The story is simple, non-linear and almost needless once the show gets going. It really was all about the performances laced in between each short act. They definitely prepared a little bit for everyone, from ballet to circus juggling. The Nightmare Before the Nutcracker is essentially a variety show in reference to Mr. Burton.
Clara was absolutely on point as the main character guiding us into the world. She’s adorable, naive, and wildly foul mouthed, delivering some of the sharpest lines in the show. Her doll and companion, Edward, is as jagged and awkward as one could expect from the source material.
As far as performances go, each one was a little unique. Sally, Clara’s friend and formerly inanimate doll, was mesmerizing with her two dance solos. Her execution was impressive.
The three jugglers, in character as Lock, Shock, and Barrel, were also thoroughly entertaining. Their talent was clear as they performed a wild routine with nine balls in the air, but what was equally impressive was how they pulled it off despite how chaotic it became.
Lastly, the balancing act performed near the midway point of the show was incredible. The physical skill and flexibility it took to pull off those moves had the crowd locked. Most people can’t hold their entire weight on one hand on a narrow post and we all know it. It was a feat of impressive strength and practice.
Each performance was different and worth watching in its own way. Whether it’s perfect or messy, you can’t help but like it because it is pulled off with composure and humour.
Also, the importance of the band cannot be stressed enough. The Mayor of Halloween Town conducted both the band and the crowd. They played renditions of both Tchaikovsky and Elfman. With only a small range to work with, none of the songs were perfect, but they provided a good soundtrack to the small production. As far as Elfman’s songs go, the rendition of Kidnap the Sandy Claws played during the juggling act was the finest. It simply fit the frenzied entertainment on stage so well.
All in all, The Nightmare Before the Nutcracker has all the elements needed for Burton fans. A bit choppy at times and totally imperfect, it still entertains, drawing constant laughter and applause. The cast delivers in every role, even playing wonderfully through a technical hold up just before the finale. It captures a similar tone of playful, childlike wonder that many Burton films employ. However, this one comes with perfectly blunt language, burlesque performances, and beer in the lobby.