Hip Hop Nutcracker Review – Delightfully Upbeat

Hip Hop Nutcracker graces the Cadillac Palace stage
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The New Jersey Performing Arts Center brings the hip-hop adaptation of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker to the Cadillac Palace Theatre in Chicago. The show runs through December 17, 2023.

Mike Filtelson’s Hip Hop Nutcracker graces the Cadillac Palace stage, performed by the New Jersey Performing Arts Center and MC’d by Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Kurtis Blow, who serves as the “hype man” for the evening. The show opens up with the iconic rapper warming the crowd with old-school rap. The multi-generational audience gets up and dances while reciting lyrics of songs such as Christmas Rappin and The Breaks.

Unlike the traditional version of the Nutcracker, this story takes place on New Year’s Eve at a street party. It is evident in the interaction between Maria-Clara’s (Halima Dodo) parents they are having relationship issues. Her mom(Jesse Smith) appears to crave the attention that her dad(G’Bari “GQ” Gilliam) refuses to give. The tension between the two of them causes Maria-Clara emotional distress.

Suddenly, Drosselmeyer(Tumelo “Melo” Khupe) surfaces at the party, along with several enchantant toys. As Maria-Clara’s parents continue to argue, her attention gravitates towards the handsome street vendor selling nuts. On the way home, Maria-Clara becomes surrounded by the Mouse King (Seth “Reaktion” Hillard”) and his crew. The street vendor is transformed into the Nutcracker (Anthony “Omen” Cavrera) by a pair of sneakers. He comes to her rescue, and sparks develop between the two.

The story is beautifully told through the movement of hip-hop dance. Violinist Marissa Licata and DJ Boo blend hip-hop beats and classical that electrify the audience. The ensemble does a remarkable job with the choreography as they seamlessly glide through the classical music.

Because I am from the hip-hop era, I enjoyed the Land of Sweets nightclub scene the most. It took me back to my teenage years when life was sweet. Those were the days of boom box radios and bamboo earrings. It was a time of mix tapes and break dance battles. I liked how they incorporated old-school dances like the Carlton, Pee-wee Herman, and the Urkel.

The Hip Hop Nutcracker is a superb urban twist to the classical holiday classic that appeals to the multi-ethnic audience. It was fresh, witty, and captivating. The color scheme was vibrant and nostalgic. For the most part, Mike Fitelson kept in tune with the storyline, and Maria-Clara’s parents regained their rhythm. As the sentiment goes, All’s well that ends well. This was an excellent way to conclude the fiftieth anniversary of hip-hop. I highly recommend this production. It is suitable for all ages.
Tickets are available at www.hiphopnutcracker.com. The runtime is 2 hours and 20 minutes with intermission.

Photo Credit: Timothy Norris


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