When the cold comes to town and there seems to be no escape from the crowds and sound systems playing the perennial carols and covers, there is one ticket in town that might warm you up like no other. This year is the eighth run of the Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker, which has continued gaining momentum over time. The team behind it has really turned one out this time. Lily Verlaine, Jasper McCann and their gang are a stunner.
There’s something especially charming about seeing the merrymakers on stage take off almost every layer at a time when we are all bundling up. The near nakedness is splendiferous! The tropes are traditional and the source material is familiar, but this is one holiday pageant of tinsel and tassels that you won’t see performed on a school’s stage any time soon. And yet it does seem to refer to a “simpler” time, a nostalgia that comes packaged with a lot of the inter-generational gaiety this time of year. The charming allure of the 1940s and 50s pin-up-styled costumes, makeup and hair are fresh and fun and never crass. The classic songs come and their fanciful tunes work into the feet of the extended cast, who wiggle and turn in delicate unison.
The cast is a whopper, with McCann hosting as the main cast changes costume (rather publicly) moving through various numbers inspired by the classic ballet—flowers and snowflakes, fantastic characters and creatures, boys and girls. The glorious Verlaine is the Countess of Coffee, Volga Girl and in the flower number she is the Prima Florearina. Miss Indigo Blue takes on the ever delightful Sugar Plum Fairy and Snow Queen, while Waxie Moon makes a lean and mean King of Rats and charming Volga Boy. Blond bombshell Babette La Faye plays The Swingin’ Tree and joins the others in the snowflake and flower numbers while the Corps du Burlesque swarm with color, glitter and pizzazz.
Verlaine and McCann create a duo that is fanciful and exotic. The underworld currents that magnify the beauty of our human body—so often chastised and left hidden by taboo—are there floating and dancing in all shapes and sizes. Religious iconography aside, the season is full of mystery—the long nights, invisible spirits at the window and on the roof, and packages wrapped and hidden. And of course, the cold inspires all to wrap oneself, too. Burlesque has charm year-round, but it is particularly interesting to see it performed at this time of year for all these reasons. Burlesque (and nakedness) have power because of social expectations and concepts of the sacred which are also at their peak this time of year. Exploring these undercurrents through performance is indeed liberating. McCann and Verlaine do this with immaculate artistry, a play of concealing and revealing down to the body itself.
Eight years now a majestic and whimsical tribute to the beauty of the human form, The Land of the Sweets has been packing the house in this underground hub. It has definitely become a new holiday tradition in the region for those in the know. If it is your first time there—or to a burlesque show at all—it may require a little adjustment at first, but that is part of the magic as it takes you out of the routine of the holidays. It’s a safe and positive way to let go of some of your inhibitions—vicariously, without having to bear all on stage yourself. How sweet it is.