The Cowles Center is the site of this year’s Christmas miracle for the Twin Cities dance scene. Myron Johnson’s “Nutcracker (not so) Suite” is back. Originally created for his company, Ballet of the Dolls, the fiercely fabulous holiday show has a new home with the James Sewell Ballet. Friday’s opening night in downtown Minneapolis was a rollicking success.
Johnson, who was Sewell’s first dance teacher, is still at the helm as choreographer and director of this expanded production featuring JSB members and Dolls alumni. While nothing quite matches the unique glamour-on-a-budget spirit of a Dolls show, it is heartwarming to see Johnson’s “Nutcracker” all gussied up with stylish costumes from Fritz Masten and Eve Schulte plus a glorious 1960s New York set designed by Steven Rydberg.
Marie (Deanna Gooding) is still the central character, but her life is more troubled than in the classical version. She lives in a condo with her rich pill-popping mama Flo (the divine Kevin McCormick) and journeys to the snowy land of sweets after being hit by a car. McCormick’s character tosses off zingy “Mommie Dearest”-style one-liners while Gooding imbues her put-upon Marie with equal parts patience and alarm. Her penultimate solo is a moment of sweet release.
There’s no nutcracker in this “Nutcracker” tale. Instead, Barbie and Ken save the day. Kelly Vittetoe and Jordan Lefton are perfect as the iconic dolls. Vittetoe’s leggy, stiff-jointed Barbie kicks butt while wearing her vintage black-and-white bathing suit. She also cracks a pink whip at the Rat Queen’s lair (Stephanie Fellner serves up her menacing role with Pam Grier realness). Lefton is charming as the clueless hunk.
The performance is filled with fun details. Sewell appears as a magician and shows off his sleight-of-hand skills. The chorus of raucous partygoers evolves into a slick beret-wearing “Beat Squad,” shimmying to a conga drumbeat. Flo’s moment of drunken madness is set to showstoppers from “Gypsy.” Even Sewell’s operations manager Mary Jo Peloquin gets a winning comedic turn as the maid.
Best of all, Johnson is back on stage as the mysterious Uncle who conjures Marie’s dreams. After a personal crisis last year the choreographer put the Dolls on hiatus, and his presence has been missed. Johnson’s performance is filled with playful winks that remind us no tradition is safe — thankfully — around him.
Caroline Palmer is a Twin Cities dance critic.