Want to add a little spice to your annual Nutcracker viewing? Look no further than SOPAC (South Orange Performing Arts Center), which is presenting “Graham Lustig’s A Jazzy Nutcracker” on Saturday, Dec. 6.
There are two shows, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Tickets, available on the SOPAC website or by calling (973) 313-2787, are $30 for adults and $15 for children 12 and under.
Set in swinging 60s London, the show features a live jazz sextet, scores of young local dancers joining the seasoned professionals, a space-age battle scene, a dancing Santa Claus — and members of the Columbia High School Marching Band. All share the stage amid an array of colorful sets, including one of Droselmeyer’s Department Store.
Lustig, a internationally renowned choreographer and head of Lustig Dance Theater, had been presenting his own very successful version of the Nutcracker since 2000. “It was super-popular, and people loved it,” said Lustig recently in a phone interview.
But last year, inspired by his youth in London, he decided to “jazz up” this holiday classic. “I thought there was room for a different interpretation,” he said. He joined forces with esteemed composer and Rutgers University Professor Paul Undreiner, who updated Tchaikovsky’s score while keeping the basic melodies everyone knows and loves.
Undreiner did a “fantastic job” with the score, said Lustig. “The tunes are all there but with a bit of jazz, swing, bossa nova,” he said. “You have these lively tunes just bubbling over — it’s such fun!” It’s also toe-tapping, and very kid-friendly, he said. (Plus the running time is just 80 minutes.)
The core story is the same: “a young girl falls in love,” Lustig said, but with a “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” twist. “We ran with it and had fun,” Lustig said.
South Orange and Maplewood residents may recognize members of the CHS marching band on stage, directed by Peter Bauer and led by drum major Russell Pinzino.
“Ballerinas will be dancing through [the marching band],” said Lustig, who noted playfully there had as yet been no collisions in rehearsals.
As part of SOPAC’s arts education outreach, ‘A Jazzy Nutcracker’ will be presented Friday morning to students from local schools in South Orange (Little Stages Child Day Care), East Orange, Orange, Irvington, Plainfield, Cliffside Park, Hoboken and West New York.
“I like the South Orange community,” said Lustig. “I’m really thrilled to be able to present this here.” He continued, “I’m hoping the community will come out and see it, and help support SOPAC.”