Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker is pure adult holiday entertainment. Good humored and farcical, with a stocking-full of sly winks to the audience throughout its two acts, the real gimmick of the show is the unexpected fact that these ladies (and gentlemen) of burlesque really can dance.
Now in its sixth year, the show, while not quite tasteful, is never vulgar or crude. Stocked with veterans of Seattle’s burlesque scene, as well as former dancers from Spectrum Dance Theater and Ballet Bellevue, there’s a polish and panache to this deconstructed (and denuded) version of The Nutcracker. Men and women alike engage in impressive pointe work, with fluid port de bras (no, not those kind of bras) that bring unexpected elegance to the production.
Certainly, these refined ballet moves are often undertaken in tasseled pasties and G-strings. But why not? It’s Christmas.
Risqué and kitschy, The Burlesque Nutcracker strips bare (no pun intended) the plot of the original ballet, leaving behind an assortment of Nutcracker memes. There’s a twitchy and itchy Rat King (Waxie Moon), an erotic Arabian Dance as seen through an arabica coffee filter, and a phallic Christmas tree that slowly grows while a nubile young lady strips in silhouette behind a lit screen. Flowers bump and grind rather than waltzing, Madame Ginger (Patty O’Furniture aka Ryan McCabe) disgorges a bevy of balloon-clad girls from beneath his/her enormous skirt, and though snow falls gently to the stage floor, it often lands on a bare buttock.
The whole barely-clothed shebang takes place at the Christmas party of one Charles Drosselmingus (Jasper McCann), a hep-cat version of Herr Drosselmeyer. Groovy Drosselmingus lets the audience know what it’s in for right away — as if the introductory striptease by the sparkly, pasty-sporting Snow Queen (Miss Indigo Blue) hadn’t given the naked Nutcracker game away.
“I think what you’re gonna see tonight is a little different from your childhood. We’re a bunch of magical merry-makers,” he said. Naked magical merry-makers.
There isn’t really a plot to The Burlesque Nutcracker per se; just a series of dances loosely held together by Drosselmingus’s retro, “Live from the Playboy Club” style of patter. McCann’s co-producer, Lily Verlaine, is the person responsible for the flash of class found in the choreography. A ballet and burlesque dancer who has performed with the likes of Dita Von Teese, Verlaine finds a way to make each of the familiar dances from the original ballet simultaneously sexy and silly. It’s an intoxicating combination, allowing the audience to indulge in the immature urge to giggle while ogling the ever-increasing exposure of flesh.
Tchaikovsky’s well-known tunes are jazzed up with a big band beat that accommodates the humorous “Mysterious Tea Mistress” (Chinese Dance), performed with huge feather fans by Paris Original and Laurel Bordeaux, as easily as the tap dancing antics of zoot suiters Waxie Moon and Hazel Cupari in “The Volga Boys” (Russian Dance). Verlaine works belly dancing, a Rockettes-style kick line and a bosom-baring homage to Coppélia into her choreography. There’s even a bit of swing dancing. Somehow, knowing that everyone is going to take their clothes off makes swing dancing in a Christmas show acceptable.
The driving force behind the production is, of course, the costumes. If you’re designing a striptease, it really all comes down to what you’re going to strip, and how effectively it can tease. The show is awash in multicolored tulle and drenched in sequins, from the towering turquoise beehive and ice crown headdress of the Snow Queen, down to the vividly dyed toe shoes and silver high heels worn as gracefully by the men as the women.
Showstopping get-ups abound, with the traditional corsets, elbow-length gloves and bedazzled bikinis delightfully upstaged at every turn by a gold lame Carmen Miranda gown or a startling flower petal dress with a billowing skirt that would put Scarlett O’Hara to shame. Not surprisingly, it took a team of designers, assisted by Verlaine, to pull the wardrobe together. That they managed to rig these elaborately draped garments to tear away in neat chunks at the flick of a finger is a Christmas miracle.
Throughout the show, Drosselmingus urged the audience to drink. Drink more. Drink early and often! “It’s not only medicinal, but a powerful motivational tool. … Drunk crowds are infinitely more pliable,” he quipped. The Triple Door’s waitstaff indulged the many calls for liquid comfort with alacrity, which added to the “magical merry-maker” ambiance.
Still, the show was hurt by the free-flowing atmosphere. Not because of the alcohol itself — anything that gets a grown man to publicly bellow at an emcee, “Hey, why don’t you take your clothes off?” is A-OK. However, the overly solicitous waitstaff was inclined to hustle into one’s line of vision right at crucial moments of bustier removal to inquire, “How ya doing? Can I get you anything else?”
The drinks-and-a-show shtick is The Triple Door’s signature, so perhaps The Burlesque Nutcracker would be advised to investigate equally boozy but waiter-less performance spaces for next year. ACT comes to mind.
If you go: Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker runs through Dec. 24 at The Triple Door. $28-$45. Early shows are for age 18 and up. Late shows are 21 and over only. For details, visit www.landofthesweets.com.