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Nutcracker Rouge

A delicious burlesque take on Tchaikovsky's ballet is downtown's best gift to winter-weary New Yorkers.

Laura Careless (right) as Marie-Claire with cast members of Company XIV's Nutcracker Rouge, written, choreographed, and directed by Austin McCormick, at the Minetta Lane Theatre.
(© Mark Shelby Perry)

The weather in the Northeast this holiday season caught a lot of folks off guard with balmy temperatures and a conspicuous absence of snow. But around this time of year at Greenwich Village's Minetta Lane Theatre, snowflakes never stand a chance anyway with all the steamy warmth emanating from the stage. I'm speaking of course about the latest incarnation of Company XIV's Nutcracker Rouge, which, happily, is establishing itself as a wintertime, adults-only tradition of song, dance, and incomparable burlesque that warms the cockles of your heart better than a hot toddy.

Austin McCormick, who created Company XIV in 2006, uses Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker as a springboard for his innocent heroine, Marie-Claire (played with smiling energy by Laura Careless), to swan dive into a deliciously seductive dreamscape of sexual awakening. (Leave the kids at home for this one.) After Marie-Claire loses her nutcracker, Madame Drosselmeyer (played by the brassily captivating Shelly Watson) serves as the young woman's guide through a naughty world of fleshy pleasure.

And there's a lot of flesh on display as Marie-Claire is "educated" by a series of tempters and temptresses, such as the alluring Cherry Girl dancers (Hilly Bodin, Lea Helle, and Nicole von Arx), a sassy posse of Turkish Delight boys (Nicholas Katen, Ross Katen, and Brett Umlauf), and dozens of other purveyors of carnal pleasure. When Marie-Claire finally finds her nutcracker, which magically transforms into the strapping Steven Trumon Gray, the two are ready to get their dance on in the show's romantic (and unabashedly sexy) balletic tour-de-force finale.

Tchaikovsky's music plays through much of this libidinous, often comical journey, but McCormick enjoys, and is in fact known for, blending the old with the new. Besides the classical score, we hear Madonna standards belted in a Euro vein ("Je suis a Material Girl") as well as an unforgettable rendition of Sia's "Chandelier," sung in French by the extraordinary soprano Marcy Richardson as she performs her own graceful ring ballet high above the stage. To witness Richardson's intensely physical performance as she flexes her operatic muscle without missing a note is worth the price of admission alone.

McCormick, with dance captain Allison Ulrich, creates a scrumptious mélange of graceful and provocative dance numbers, with moves inspired by the likes of Balanchine and Fosse. Zane Pihlstrom's confectionary costumes — from licorice-like leather that hides very little, to bouncy cotton-candy gowns — all look good enough to lick.

Though the general narrative may stay the same, Nutcracker Rouge offers a new twist each season, so theatergoers who have attended before will discover a couple new acts this time around. Those who thought they might have outgrown the Nutcracker they knew as kids will want to make this adult version their new holiday tradition.