Nutcracker Rouge

Reviewer’s Rating

We may be halfway into the month of January, but the Christmas spirit remains blazingly alive at Théâtre XIV in Bushwick with no signs of dimming – at least, not until the end of the yearly run of the triumphant Nutcracker Rouge. It’s a titillating feast for the senses: musical numbers, acrobatic performances, decadent costumes, a splash of ballet, and no shortage of stripping.

The ambience of the theater is exciting, electrifying, but also warm and cozy enough that it could be set in your own living room. The energy of the audience is just as alive as that of the performers. The mood is set as viewers sip curated cocktails with names like Sugar Plum Cherry (delicious, by the way) or Candied Violet from the lavishly decorated bar. The Louis XIV-inspired world into which we’re all about to enter is like stepping into a patisserie: so many colorful and delicate confections on display that one hardly knows where to look first.

The heart of Nutcracker Rouge is Marie-Claire: the baroque, burlesque version of the traditional Clara, winningly portrayed by Megumi “Meg” Iwama. She is gifted a nutcracker doll from her godmother and lays down to dream, inviting in the riotous acts of the Land of Sweets. Iwama is angelic, beaming for each performer with the utter adoration of an ingénue. We watch Marie-Claire begin by tentatively reaching a hand out as if wishing to be part of the dances, becoming more and more bold as the show goes on until she is fully swept up in the splendor of it all.

If Marie-Claire is the heart, the soul of the show is Madame Drosselmeyer, played by Storm Marrero. While the show has no shortage of impressive pipes and stunning musical numbers, she is the powerhouse chanteuse who ties everything together. She brings the house down with song after song, feeding from the energy of the audience and giving it right back to them. Marrero gives a spectacular performance and her Drosselmeyer is the perfect quasi-narrator for the spectacle unfolding around her.

Each scene is clearly crafted with much care. Nutcracker Rouge shines for its love of genre-bending. Classical music leads into punchier, jazzier beats; acrobatics and ballet are infused with sensuality and pasties. It all comes together to create dynamic acts that you never want to end. The resounding climax comes as Marie-Claire finally claims the spotlight for herself, embodying the Sugar Plum Fairy and meeting her Nutcracker Prince (Marcos Antonio) in the flesh. Their jaw-droppingly sexy pas de deux is no less athletically and visually stunning than the classical ballet version. It must be noted that Iwama is so expressive a performer that I couldn’t help but watch her face as much as the dancing. She tells Marie-Claire’s inner journey so clearly on her face that you can’t help feeling the rush of excitement, happiness, and love that the character is consumed with during the pas de deux.

Company XIV and their dazzling cast make the case that high-brow and low-brow should not be mutually exclusive, and Nutcracker Rouge is the cherry on top of their argument. It’s a spectacular spectacular from start to finish. There is no question that it deserves the popularity it has garnered over the years, and if it isn’t already a part of your Christmas festivities, I cannot recommend it enough.