Septime Webre, himself, set the tone for his production of The Nutcracker when he came out to introduce the ballet and extend a warm welcome to the audience. His relaxed, playful intro acknowledged the all-ages crowd, particularly as he primed us on how to cheer for the dancers: “Bravo!” for male dancers, “Brava!” for ballerinas, and “Bravi!” for everyone and everything. And he encouraged us to use them liberally during the performance.
Of course, we didn’t need any prompting. From the moment the ballet began, we had plenty to applaud as we were transported to the show’s magical world of…Georgetown. Yes, Webre put his signature on the production with a 19th-century Washington setting and other hints of “DC” as the performance progresses – George Washington as the Nutcracker, Anacostia Indians, an appearance by news anchor Maureen Bunyan – a touch that added to the fun, intimate feel of the experience.
Here, I should note that this was Owen’s first Nutcracker performance in his nearly six years, and my first live one in a very long time. (It was just the two of us since I thought bringing Sasha to a two-hour performance might be pushing my luck, despite her recent theatre-going breakthrough.) I was excited to see how he would like the show, since he loves dance – both watching it and grooving himself — but usually prefers more modern genres, like hip hop.
But let’s get back to the “magical” part, which starts with the Christmas party in the Stahlbaum family’s ballroom. The set itself is superb, decorated for the holidays with a grand-yet-cozy feel, and the Christmas tree as a focal point. Guests are dressed in beautiful period costumes and dance their way through the scene as they greet each other and the audience.
When Clara’s dream sequence begins it gets even better. The set changes to become the bottom of the tree to demonstrate scale. And the toys that come to life under it wow with spectacular performances that are spirited and colorful and keep the audience focused on the stage. Owen sat up intently as criss-crossing lines of toy soldiers, an adorable troupe of clowns , brilliantly garbed Indians, twirling forest animals, and more enchanting characters lit up the stage with thrilling, dramatic dances in the first act.
Intermission came after an hour, perfect timing for an audience filled with young theatre-goers. We got up to stretch our legs and peer into the orchestra pit, which held the first musicians that have played the score for the production in a few years, as taped music had been used when the company experienced financial troubles.
The second act began after about a 20-minute intermission with a breathtaking set of the Potomac River and glimmering cherry blossoms at its edges. The performances in this act as Clara and the Prince visited the Land of Sweets were beautiful, though I did notice Owen start to squirm a bit by then. That’s understandable as it was a long time for a young child to sit. And while absolutely mesmerizing to me, the Dance of the Sugar the Sugar Plum Fairies and the like lacked the big theatrics that hold a five-year-old’s attention as the numbers in the first act did. But when it was all over and I asked Owen how he liked the show, he gave a very enthusiastic, “I liked it!” And when we ran into his friends after the show, they ardently echoed his sentiments.
As for me, I give it a big, “Bravi!”
Septime Webre’s The Nutcracker is running at the Warner Theatre through December 24. Tickets are $40-110 and available for purchase through Ticketmaster. Goldstar also has discount on tickets for performances on select dates.
*I recommend this show for children ages 4 and up, depending on how well they sit through theatre performances and how much they like ballet. The entire production is a good two hours, so kids who aren’t into this kind of theatre would probably get antsy.
*Metered parking is available, though it’s hard to score a good spot in that part of town. There are several parking garages nearby the theatre which cost anywhere from $14-$20.
*Give yourself some time to get in the theatre and find your seats. The lobby is small and can get crowded, and there may be a wait as ushers direct people to seats.
*Snack and drinks are available for purchase ($5 popcorn, $4 soda), and you can bring them into the theatre. Souvenir Nutcracker dolls are also sold in the lobby.
Disclosure: I received complimentary tickets to The Nutcracker from the Washington Ballet, but all opinions expressed here are entirely my own.