Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast
John Ringling's Circus NutcrackerSarasota Ballet
Also see Bill's reviews of The Santaland Diaries and Love Never Dies
Everything about this show was huge, it easily filled the vast stage of the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center (approximately 70 ft across), something that touring musicals rarely do. The "Waltz of the Snowflakes," which ends act one, has 16 in the corps du ballet! The sets and costumes were a dazzling pallette of colors, blues in the waltz of the snowflakes, maroon and green for waltz of the roses, just an entire rainbow of hues. The dancing was excellent; this is a company that keeps growing in national prominence. A return visit to New York City was recently announced. It was a feast for the eyes and ears (a live performance of Tchaikovsky's lush score by our fine Sarasota Orchestra under Maestro Andrew Lane) and would appeal to audiences of all ages. Even at the evening performance I attended there were lots of young children in attendance.
I spent many years in Boston where a traditional The Nutcracker reigns supreme from the day after Thanksgiving to December 31, holding court in one of the City's larger venues, approximately 2700 seats. Tickets for the most desirable performances were scooped up months ahead and many families made this a yearly experience. I saw it many times over the years I spent there.
Sarasota Ballet's version kept the basic storyline but melded it to Sarasota's circus history. John Ringling, owner of Ringling Brothers Circus, later Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and his wife had a palatial residence in Sarasota and the show wintered in these environs for many years. The city is still home to many circus families, active and retired. John Ringling's Circus Nutcracker resets the basic story to 1920s America. Clara and her family travel by train to New York City's Grand Central Station where Clara sees the Ringling Circus "loading up," supervised by John Ringling and his nephew John Ringling North. Ringling, wife Mabel, and North show up at the party Clara attends with her family and it is Ringling who gifts the titular Nutcracker to Clara. Thereafter, the circus folk figure in Clara's dreams, the divertisment that makes up act two. I am often not a fan of resetting theatrical pieces away from their intended time and places, but since the original is a fantasy piece anyway, the only problem is that the music doesn't always align ideally with the circus motif. Circus images include acrobats, tightrope performers, and of course clowns (two adults and a whole group of children). The realization of an elephant (shown in picture above) in the Arabian Dance was unforgettable. It all made for a spectacularly entertaining two hours.
Among the leading dancers, Ryoko Sadoshima was a lovely Clara, partnered by Logan Learned as young, debonaire John Ringling North and The Nutcracker. David Tlaie was John Ringling and Victoria Hulland his beloved Mable. The vision of her, then both sitting on the moon was a lovely one. Kate Honea was Sugar (in the original, The Sugar Plum Fairy) and Lucas Erni was her Prince, while Katelyn May and Ricardo Graziano were the Snow Queen and King. Ivan Duarte nearly stole act one as Clara's naughty brother Fritz. Sara Scherer and Ricki Bertoni were the adult clowns in both acts, and as usual large portions of the audience loved the clowns above all else.
In the second act divertisment, the following were prominent. Samantha Benoit as Equestrienne; Ellen Overstreet and Erik Thordal Christensen led the Arabian Dance; Alexandre Barbosa, Jaison McClendon, Patrick Ward, Clayton McKenna and Jonathan Leonard as Acrobats; Elizabeth Sykes, Dagny Hanrahan, Julianne Blunt, Tara DeSanto and Asia Bui walked the tightrope. Children appeared Party Children, Clown Children, and Gangster Mice. They were required to dance more than I have ever seen in other productions of this piece and they were all wonderful.
This production was the complete package, with everything about it coming together for dazzling effect. Design was credited to Peter Docherty and if this includes the costumes and sets, wow! It was world class. Lighting was by Aaron Muhl and he did a splendid job making all the various numbers have individual character, as they must. This was a production that Sarasota could tour with, play in other large venues around the area, were it not so costly, personnel wise.
These 2017 performances were the fourth set, after 2012's original production and revivals in 2013 and 2015. It would be foolhardy to miss John Ringling's Circus Nutcracker next time it is revived.
Sarasota Ballet presented John Ringling's Circus Nutcracker December 15-16, 2017, at Van Wezel Performing Arts Center, 777 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota, FL 34236. For more information visit www.sarasotaballet.org.
Station Porters/Hotel Bellhops: Jaison McClendon, Jack Kadzis, Clayton McKenna
Additional Act II Cast: