Nutcracker Rouge, Cirkopolis, Hebe for the Holidays and Sandyland

Cirkopolis rocked and Nutcracker Rouge sputters, but Jackie Hoffman and Sandra Bernard ruled at Joe’s Pub!

Nutcracker Rouge   (2 stars)
Cirkopolis   (4 stars)
Jackie Hoffman’s ‘Hebe for the Holidays’   (4 ½ stars)
Sandra Bernhard’s ‘Sandyland’   (4 stars)

Recently extended through January 12, Company XIV’s Nutcracker Rouge is a mixed bag of offerings that boasts hard-working performers in a show that’s rough around the edges.   Conceived, directed and choreographed by Austin McCormick, with a script adapted and written by Jeff Takas, Nutcracker Rouge turns the traditional Nutcracker story into one of seduction and sexual awakening.  Pretty Marie-Claire, sensitively portrayed and danced by Laura Careless, is guided along her journey of self-discovery by Monsieur and Madame Drosselmeyer, portrayed by Takas and Shelly Watson, who show Marie-Claire a series of sexual ‘confections’ in the form of circus performers and dancers who put a new spin on this holiday classic.  (Though it’s a shame the Drosselmeyers wield hand-held microphones like lounge singers and push the audience to buy drinks at a totally unnecessary intermission.)  Nutcracker Rouge concludes with Marie-Claire shedding her corseted gown and dancing an erotic pas de deux with her prince charming, a handsome Alexander Hille.  Though the skill level of the performers is high, and the sets and costumes (by Zane Pihlstrom) are sensational, the script by Takas is clunky and McCormick’s choreography is confined and uninspired on the Minetta Lane’s smallish stage.  More problematic is Takas himself who, as Monsieur Drosselmeyer, is irritating and self-indulgent as the show’s narrator and guide.  A bright spot, in addition to the talent of the performers, is the singing by Watson as Madame Drosselmeyer.  Possessed of a big, brassy, belting soprano, the voluptuous Watson’s radiant voice cuts through the smoke and mirrors in a way McCormick’s artistic vision does not.

A show that should have been extended was Cirque Eloize’s Cirkopolis, which recently enjoyed a critically acclaimed run at NYU’s Skirball Center (Dec 18 – Jan 5).  Based in Old Montreal and currently celebrating their 20th anniversary, Cirque Eloize’s Cirkopolis was co-directed by Artistic Director Jeannot Painchaud and Dave St. Pierre, with choreography by St. Pierre (who also choreographed Cirque du Soleil’s Zumanity and The Beatles LOVE shows).  In Cirkopolis, thirteen talented performers created spectacle in ways both small and understated.  Utilizing balancing, tumbling, juggling, contortion and dance, Cirkopolis found the life and humanity in a world that too often crushes our soul and spirit.

And speaking of crushing souls and spirits, funny ladies Jackie Hoffman and Sandra Bernard recently made appearances at Joe’s Pub to remind us the holidays are about more than spending money and double-wide strollers!  First up was the indefatigable Hoffman in Hebe for the Holidays (Dec 20-24), whose penchant for breathtaking political incorrectness is firmly intact – thank goodness!  No subject was taboo, be it school shootings, Stephen Sondheim’s inability to autographing a book to her liking, or her recent stint as an entertainer on a gay cruise, the latter of which provided the centerpiece for her latest holiday show.  As always Hoffman’s co-conspirator on original songs was the adorable Bobby Peaco and together than ran roughshod over their targets throwing taste, etiquette and style to the wind.  Let’s hope they return soon!

As for Bernhard, who looked like $10 million dollars in a pair of black, leather pants and a chic, white blouse, her world is Sandyland (Dec 26-31) and we are merely allowed to live in it.  Backed by her trusty Mitch Kaplan on piano and her band, The Flawless Zircons, the ageless Bernhard opened with Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind” and closed with an encore of Miley Cyrus’ latest hit, “Wrecking Ball,” bedecked in a white wife-beater and white boxer-briefs in a hilarious spoof of Miley, herself.  Everything that came in between was peppermint icing in the hands of the wry, funny Bernhard, whose lacerating observations and spot-on social commentary remain as sharp and insightful as ever.  And who knew Bernard was playing a “groovy art professor” on ABC Family’s Switched At Birth.  Because, as she says, “when you think of me, you think of ABC Family, right?”

Nutcracker Rouge ­­plays through January 12 at the Minetta Lane (18 Minetta Lane, www.NutcrackerRouge.com).

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