The New Jersey Performing Arts Center brought a modern update of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s classic ballet, complete with break dancing, graffiti art and colorful 1980s clothing Tuesday night to the Riverside Theater (festively decorated for the holidays).
Showcasing an incredibly athletic, youthful cast and brimming with positive energy, The Hip Hop Nutcracker, adapted by Mike Fitelson, proved to be a nonstop, family-friendly party.
Veteran rapper Kurtis Blow, dressed in an all-white suit, sequined baseball cap and bow tie, acted as the show’s MC, treating the audience to a medley of old-school raps. Blow breezed through his breakout hit, “The Christmas Rap,” following it with the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message,” and House of Pain’s “Jump Around”.
Blow encouraged audience members of all ages to “wave your hands in the air” and “scream.” The crowd happily complied.
In The Hip Hop Nutcracker, set in present-day New York City on New Year’s Eve, Maria-Clara (Ann-Sylvia Clark) is frustrated by her parents’ (Nubian Nene and Micah “Just Jamz” Abbrey) arguing. With the help of The Nutcracker (Josue “Beastmode” Figueroa) and Drosselmeyer (Lisa “LBoogie” Bauford) Maria-Clara is transported back in time to the Land of Sweets nightclub in 1988, the place where her parents first met. Through the power of dance and a bit of magic, Maria-Clara’s parents reconcile.
Throughout the production, images of a modern city were shown on the screen, among them brownstone apartments, neon signs and graffiti. Costumes were stylish. The Mouse King and mice appeared in black and silver shirts and pants with mouse ears; the toy ensemble wore white pants and shirts embellished with gold. During the 1980s club scene, performers wore parachute pants, Adidas track suits, red pants and sleeveless denim vests.
The show stayed faithful to Tchaikovsky’s score. Numbers included the composer’s well-known Russian Dance, Arabian Dance, Waltz of the Flowers and Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy and showcased impeccable choreography by Jennifer Weber. For example, the toy ensemble’s robotic and fluid dance moves were perfectly paired with joyful classical music. The cast members spun on their heads, did back flips and performed other acrobatic feats, to the awe of the audience.
Talented violinist Jarvis L. Benson performed several musical interludes, interspersed with beats from artist DJ Boo between acts. Prior to the show’s beginning, the DJ kept the audience entertained with plenty of vintage hip-hop and funk music.
At the end of the production, Blow reappeared in a sequined gold jacket, performing his roller-disco-friendly hit “The Breaks” while introducing the cast members. At nearly 60 years old, the smiling, agile rapper even adopted a few breakdance moves.
“Good night, Milwaukee. We are happy and honored to perform for you tonight,” said Blow, wishing the audience “Happy Holidays and a Merry Christmas!”