From Disney’s Fantasia to phone commercials, Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite pops up frequently. However, the twinkly score and the classic ballet are especially ubiquitous throughout the month of December, and so are its parodies. Here are our top five alternative Nutcrackers.
1. The Simpsons' Nutcracker
Lisa Simpson, just after dancing Clara in Springfield Elementary School’s Nutcracker, hit the nail on the head when she explains that the ballet’s music is so popular “because you don’t have to pay for the music rights.” On cue, Marge starts singing her to-do list to March; Moe tries to commit suicide to the Dance of the Flutes; and Marge and Homer exchange gifts to the Sugar Plum Fairy’s pas de deux with her Cavalier.
2. Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn
In 1960, Duke Ellington and his longtime collaborator Billy Strayhorn adopted Tchaikovsky’s original for a big band swing orchestra. The resulting, Nutcracker Suite, transforms the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” and the Russian “Trepak” to “Sugar Rum Cherry” and “Volga Vouty,” respectively. Two decades later, the jazzed up piece inspired choreographer Donald Byrd to create a Harlem Nutcracker to the music. More recently it was part of a the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic broadcast it as part of a program called Nutcracker Swing.
3. A Burlesque Nutcracker
For the sixth straight year Seattle’s Triple Door presents a rendition of the E.T.A Hoffman story that’s naughtier than nice in Land of the Sweets: A Burlesque Nutcracker. Neither Clara nor Fritz appears here, instead the performance explores what the saccharine characters like Hot Chocolate, Coffee, Charles Drosselmingus and the Sugar Plum Fairy do in their off hours. Hint: there are more pasties than pastries.
5. An R-Rated Nutcracker
The Land of the Sweets seems tame compared to Angela Harriell’s Nutcracker: Rated R. This story of family dysfunction, which comes to Le Poisson Rouge on Dec. 22, centers on leftist leaning Clara, who’s rebelling against her bourgeois parents. In a twist that seems to come straight out of A Christmas Carol, Uncle Drosselmeyer takes Clara back in time to New York City’s drug-fueled underground club scene in the ’80s, where she unearths family secrets.
5. A Hockey Nutcracker
When you hear of Nutcracker on Ice, you don’t normally envision grizzled men with missing teeth on skates. However, the NHL’s Boston Bruins adopted 1970s song “Nut Rocker,” a jazzed up rendition of the March—it sounds like a cross between Tchaikovsky and Jerry Lee Louis—as its theme.
Weigh in: Do you have a favorite unusual version of the Nutcracker? Leave your comments below: