Last Updated on December 28, 2021 by Angie
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The Nutcracker is a classic ballet that is a Christmas tradition for many. With familiar music, hundreds of colorful and dramatic costumes, and a story full of wonder, it's easy to see why this ballet keeps people returning to performances year after year.
The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has been performing The Nutcracker for decades, and yet each year there are new twists to enjoy.
The Nutcracker is a Holiday Classic
The Nutcracker ballet, with music composed by Tchaikovsky, is based on a story written in 1816 by E.T.A. Hoffmann. The story starts on Christmas Eve at the Stahlbaum house with the arrival of Godfather Drosselmeyer and his nephew. Among the many gifts that they bring is a Nutcracker which Marie, the Stahlbaum's daughter, Marie, witnesses coming to life at night along with all the other toys.
A battle ensues amongst the toys between the Rat King and the Nutcracker. Marie helps the Nutcracker to victory, after which she travels through the Land of Enchantment where various characters show their gratitude to Marie through beautiful dances.
The next morning, Marie wakes up and the audience is left with the question of whether or not it was all a dream.
A Wonderful Performance By The Pittsburgh Ballet
Although we don't frequently attend ballet performances, we thoroughly enjoyed the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's rendition of this classic tale. After reading the performers' biographies and witnessing the mesmerizing dancing, it's clear that there is a huge concentration of talent in the company, something you might not expect for a city the size of Pittsburgh.
As with most ballet performances, cast members play different roles throughout the show. During our visit, Drosselmeyer was given a dramatic performance by Cooper Verona, Joseph Parr and Diana Yohe played the Snow King and Queen, and Joanna Schmidt nailed the starring role of Marie.
(As you later learn when reading through the playbill, many of the characters also have Pittsburgh connections including the Heinz family, Grandview family, and the Kaufmanns- a detail not readily obvious without looking as the ballet has no spoken words.)
Another highlight of the show, is, of course, the extremely colorful and dramatic costumes. In fact, there are over 200 different costumes used in this production of the ballet. From the toys to the mice and Rat King, to the Sugar Plum Fairy, to the fluttering butterflies and hummingbirds, there is so much going on visually that we were captivated and transported to this enchanting world.
Of course, children are even more transfixed by the costumes. One of our favorite things about attending the show was the group of young children sitting behind us marveling out loud at each new character appearing on stage. As the number of kids rivals adults at this performance, this should be expected and has happened at every performance we've seen so far.
One final thing we really love about the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance of The Nutcracker is how Pittsburgh themes and references are woven throughout the show.
For example, the storybook out of which all the toys emerge is Kaufmann's Christmas Stories for Boys and Girls, and one of the toys is a Penguin. Other Pittsburgh references include a backdrop that depicts the confluence of Pittsburgh's three rivers, and Drosselmeyer's carriage is painted with the words “H.J. Heinz Company.”
Overall we enjoyed the highly skilled dancing and dramatic costumes and sets of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's performance of The Nutcracker: it instilled in us childlike wonder and really put us in the Christmas spirit. We highly recommend making this show a part of your Christmas traditions!
The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's rendition of The Nutcracker is at the Benedum every December. We were guests of the Ballet for the performance in 2021 but have also paid for tickets for previous years. As always, all opinions are our own.