Most of the viewers who showed up at the Folly Theater Saturday night knew they werent there for a traditional holiday show.
By ROBERT TRUSSELL
The Kansas City Star
The Owen/Cox Dance Groups jazz-dance retelling of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King received a rousing response from an audience that largely bought into the postmodern, deadpan humor of the piece. From precise, athletic dance moves to a wholesale reworking of Tchaikovskys Nutcracker ballet by the Peoples Liberation Big Band, the show was a trippy, alternative take on a Christmas classic that brought together some of the most innovative artists in town.
Still, the show wasnt everyones cup of tea and the audience thinned out a bit after intermission. Most viewers responded enthusiastically to the shows explosions of color, kinetic choreography and aural sophistication.
The arrangements credited to Patrick Alonzo Conway, Brad Cox, Jeff Harshbarger, Forest Stewart and the band generally were playful mashups of jazz styles and pop-music motifs. The muscular horn and rhythm sections in the 17-piece ensemble were augmented by a pedal-steel guitar and a range of keyboard instruments, including Rhodes and toy pianos. In each case you could pick up on the original Nutcracker melody lines, but Maestro Tchaikovskys work was largely a point of departure.
As Cox explained in introductory remarks which were comically drowned out by the rambunctious band the narrative was taken from the original E.T.A. Hoffmann story about a toy Nutcracker who must fight the evil Mouse King and liberate the dolls in young Maries toy collection. The dance ensemble included the characteristically larger-than-life Christopher Barksdale as Godfather Drosselmeir, the toy maker, and Winston Dynamite Brown as the Nutcracker. Choreographer Jennifer Owen first appeared as Fritz, Maries bratty brother, and reappeared in the second act as the Sugar Plum Fairy in one of the shows must amusing and well-executed dances.
Catherine Russell as Marie captured the right balance between elegance and youthful exuberance, while William Cannon and Megan Horton as Father and Mother brought a crisp, stylized and sensual quality to their roles. Students from the Paseo Academy won over the crowd with an infectious Dance of the Merlitons.
Saxophonist and horn sculptor Mark Southerland the only musician who got to emerge from the pit made a spectacular entrance from the back of the house as the Mouse King. Costumed in an enormous robe more suggestive of a musk ox than a mouse, Southerland bleated his way to the stage, where the Mouse King met his amusing demise in the wings, out of sight of the audience.
The shows wry narration was read mostly by bassist Harshbarger, although Cox, outfitted in a fright wig, provided the commentary from an onstage piano for The Story of the Hard Nut. Costumes designs credited to Peggy Noland, Peregrine Honig and Southerland were colorful and deceptively simple. John Moose Kimballs lighting made a major contribution.
To reach Robert Trussell, call 816-234-4765 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.