Even as we arrived 20 minutes before curtain for Sunday-evening performance of The Slutcracker at the Somerville Theatre, ushers were urging us to head for balcony — seats in the orchestra for this general-admission production were already almost gone. It was a mixed crowd in all manner of dress, from rock-crowd slobs to night-out gals on the town in their heels and skinny dresses. Say what you will, in its fifth year, this local production is a hit, and as much a seasonal cultural benchmark as the big-time legit original running downtown.
Let me be clear: I’ve never been interested in the “new” burlesque. I never really got the “irony” of women pretending to be old-time strippers — it all seemed like yet another excuse for bad amateur theatrics. That is, until my wife, on impulse (okay, she was still coming down from post-outpatient surgery sedatives), bought us a pair of tickets to The Slutcracker.
Mind you, this is the same weekend in which we saw the Aardvark Jazz Orchestra’s loving take on the Duke Ellington-Billy Strayhorn arrangement of Tchaikovksy’s Nutcracker Suite. But, from the sublime to the ridiculous. The Slutcracker was worth the trip.
It began with warm-up comedian Mehran Khaghani’s blistering “motherfucker”-laced 10 minutes, during which, among other things, he related some of the sign-language from “deaf night,” with a digression on the clitoris: “If you ask a hockey crowd whether they know where the clitoris is, they’ll ask, ‘The dinosaur or the planet?'”
As for the show itself, as you might guess, the Slutcracker Prince is dildo that comes to life. (Khaghani had referred to the production’s “very thinly veiled” subtext. But, then again, so I suppose is the original’s.) Director/choregrapher Vanessa White has several trained ballet-dancer ringers mixed in with her large cast — a gender-bending mix of men and women of all body types. Costumes were clever as they were attractive. During the “Waltz of the Flowers,” dancers plucked their green-and-yellow petals and green-leaf tails; “The Russian Dance” was three halter-wearing, whip-cracking dominatrixes; the “Chinese Dance” was a nicely choreographed fan dance. Action was well-synched with the music, especially in the opening-act expository party scene. (Clara really needs something Fritz isn’t giving her, and “Auntie” Drosselmeyer knows just what that is.)
What else? There was an impressively acrobatic pole dance (made more challenging, I’d guess, by that wobbly pole), some convincing ballet moves and toe-shoe action (especially by Slutcracker Prince Davide Vittorino and White hersel as the Sugar Dish Fariy), and all manner of simulated group sex (the dildo-nosed, uh, gingerbread children of the Polichnelle). A buff dog in restraints was led around on a leash, but he did get up from all fours occasionally to swing his impressive banana sack.
The Sunday evening show was sold out, as were most of the other performances at the 900-seat Somerville Theatre. But you might be able to get tickets to the remaining Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve performances. And, hey, where else, in the middle of “The Chinese Dance,” as Tchaikovsky’s sublime music plays in the background, will you hear someone yell from the balcony, “Show us your tits!”