by JK Clarke
For many of us, the holidays are a drudge. We hear endless loops of the same old Christmas songs we’ve heard our entire lives. And the stresses of gift-buying and card-sending are enough to drive some a tad crazy. So, it’s no great surprise that a trend has developed over the past few years to spice up the holidays with somewhat exotic versions of our traditional festivities. Two such examples are Nutcracker Rouge and Naked Holidays.
Nutcracker Rouge, at the Minetta Lane Theatre through the end of the month, is a neo-burlesque re-imaging—and salute to—holiday classic The Nutcracker. Fans of both holiday festivities and burlesque will surely be delighted, as it features both classically trained dancers, circus performers, operatic singers (particularly Shelley Watson as vivacious festivities MC, Mrs. Drosselmeyer) on one hand; and on the other, the familiar music of Tchaikovsky’s classic. Who can resist the Sugarplum Fairies when they’re bare to the waist, save for a set of tasseled, sparkly, holiday red pasties? The performance is set in a Bayou-esque roadhouse and we get to see the performance as if spies, viewing both the stage and backstage at once, along with Marie Claire (Laura Careless), and her Alice in Wonderland meets Story of O experience. Despite a few lulls and some banality, the evening is mostly a delightful fantasy romp. As the original storyline is a child’s fantasy of romance and magic, so too is this an adult’s fantasy of sugar and spice.
Naked Holiday’s great strength is that it skips the tease and overcomes the censorship (that came to be seen as “tease” art in the form of scarcely covered genitalia). It is what it sets out to be: a holiday variety show, heavy on the schmaltz, with Nudity. No foolin’ here, there’s full frontal (and back-al) everything. Hosted by the charming and effervescent Kara Addington, along with Philip Casale, it’s a throwback to holiday TV variety shows of the early 70s: lots of bad jokes (some of which, unfortunately, are just plain bad, not merely groaners), awkward appearances by popular TV characters (Elmo? Really? He’s had a lot of bad press lately – from his handler’s “handlings” to his impersonator’s racist outbursts in Times Square — so why did the writers choose to trot this disaster out on stage?) – some entertaining dance numbers and a few awkward current event sketches. Like those early variety shows, there’s still something entertaining about the whole affair. And, when it’s not, there’s nudity, so really what does it matter?
Oddly enough, the best and most humorous segment of all, “The Naked People Play”— an argument between a couple about the meaning, or lack thereof, of nudity and the beauty of the human body—turned out to be one with the most nudity. Coincidence? Who’s to say? Throughout the sketches were a few standouts: a lovely, Vivaldi piece (“Winter”); a woman, alone on the stage, clothed only by her cello (“Skating”); Alesandra Nahodil, for terrific comic moments, both clothed and otherwise; and Jarrod Bates’ fine physical comedy.
Whatever was lacking in writing, the actors and Serena Miller’s wonderful musical arrangements more than made up. And, really, when all else failed, they were naked!
What more can one ask for?
Don’t answer that.
Nutcracker Rouge. Through January 5, 2014 at Minetta Lane Theatre (18 Minetta Lane, between MacDougal and Sixth Avenue).www.NutcrackerRouge.com
Naked Holidays. Through December 30 at The Cutting Room (44, East 32nd Street @Park Avenue). www.EndTimesProductions.Org