“Blockbuster!!!” isn’t the sort of exclamation you would typically apply to a show performed by a symphonic wind ensemble showcasing a roomful of untrained ballerinas.
Of all the Dance-Along Nutcrackers® the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band has produced since 1985, though, this year’s Nutcrackers of the Caribbean! has all the elements: pirates, an evil queen in disguise, sword play, an elaborate treasure hunt, romance, sweeping music that evokes high seas adventure, a slight smattering of bathroom humor – all mixed in with, yes, Tchaikovsky’s Christmas ballet.
Conducted by Artistic Director Pete Nowlen, the Dance-Along Nutcracker is the Freedom Band’s annual DIY holiday bash. With its costumed audiences storming dance floors since 1985, the show probably represents the first flashmob in history. Picture a mosh-pit with tutus, fairy wands, a mirror ball and ballet music, and you’ve got the idea. All comers, who think they can dance, strap on tutus and tiaras from the Tutus R Us Boutique in the back (if they haven’t brought their own) and leap onto the dance floor while the Band performs Fantasia faves like “Waltz of the Flowers” and, of course, “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”
Only the Suite portion of Tchaikovsky’s ballet (the fairyland dances after Clara’s Nutcracker turns into a prince) is arranged for concert band. So the show is filled out each year with music on a theme. In between dance-along numbers, actors and dancers tell the story, sing a song, or dance in feature numbers.
The Nutcrackers of the Caribbean cast this year is looking rather Blockbuster!!! itself. Joe Wicht (a.k.a. Trauma Flintstone) is back to play the lead role of Captain Jack Drosselmeyer. Wicht has been a Dance-Along Nutcracker institution, playing the lead role from 2007 to 2009 as Cavalry Nutcracker, Scrooge/Drosselmeyer, and the Rat King, as well as feature numbers in productions going back to 1999. Wicht is a prominent figure in the local cabaret scene, tickling the ivories for what’s billed as the Last Piano Bar at Martuni’s, co-producing the Cabaret Showcase Showdown with Katya Smirnoff-Skyy and, more recently, co-hosting Broadway Bingo with Smirnoff-Skyy at Hotel Nikko.
Flynn DeMarco is directing the cast and plays Emperor Norton in this year’s show. He first joined the Dance-Along Nutcracker as Sgt. Lemon Pepper in 2011’s Clara’s Magical Mystery Tour! and played Drosselmeyer in last year’s show.
After years of performing at San Francisco theaters like Theater Rhino and Artfull Circle Theater, DeMarco started his own theater company (Running With Scissors) in New Orleans, where he won Big Easy Awards for Best Actor in a Musical and Best Director. Hurricane Katrina flung him back this way, where he fell in with the Thrillpeddlers and performed in their Pearls Over Shanghai, Shocktoberfest and Vice Palace, which he associate-directed.
Tina Sogliuzzio, who performs with Red Hots Burlesque and Thrillpeddlers (Shocktoberfest and Vice Palace), plays Queen Rattannia and gives the conniving monarch a brassy edge. Fritz and Clara are played by two teen actors – Jack Goldstein and Ruby Roto – who worked with DeMarco at the Thrillpeddlers’ summer drama program, Creature Camp. Kelly Collins, who’s performed in the Dance-Along Nutcracker since 2006, plays Al Capone. The Lesbian/Gay Chorus of San Francisco performs Michael Jackson’s Thriller.
Carolyn Carvajal, veteran of the San Francisco Opera Ballet, has choreographed some of the DAN’s most memorable moments, like the Hershey’s Kisses dancing to Swan Lake. She’s back with her dancers, choreographing the pirate ballet and underwater finale.
The Saturday evening Captain’s Ball Gala goes Caribbean with a pre-show cocktail reception, holiday nosh and piratical DJ dance party. And whether you like your pirate ballets with a cocktail reception or prohibition-style, every show features thrilling music like Klaus Badelt’s “Pirates of the Caribbean,” John Williams’ “Medley from Hook,” and Alan Menken’s “Under the Sea,” not to mention a little Tchaikovsky to ring in the holidays. So pull on your toe shoes and strap on your cutlass! You’ll have a gay ol’ time!
2013 Dance-Along Nutcrackers® Nutcrackers of the Caribbean! happens on Saturday, December 14, and Sunday, December 15, at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts Forum. For tickets and more information, please go to: sflgfb.townalive.com/season-events/dancealong-nutcracker-december-2013/.
Trumpet player Heidi Beeler has been a member of the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band since 1991.