This past Sunday my wife and I attended what might have been my 15th trip to the Nutcracker. At this matinee, the stars of the show, at least to this grandpa, were two of our five granddaughters, Ruby, and London. Some of you may differ on the stars of the show, but as this is my column, I get to do the gushing. The play is shown every two years in Kankakee, and we have had the delight over the past decades of watching two daughters and four granddaughters “star” in this production. 

It occurred to me how little I knew about the story of the Nutcracker, and I bet my daughters and granddaughters have even less knowledge. I wish I’d wrote this before I went to the show. 

So, let me regale you this Christmas season with the rich history of this ballet. 

Most people know the Nutcracker as a musical written by Tchaikovsky, the Russian composer, in 1892, and little else. In fact, Tchaikovsky only wrote the music; about nine months before the ballet, which was choreographed by Marius Petipa. 

The original story, named the Nutcracker and the Mouse King, was written by ETA Hoffman in Germany in 1816. His version was considered “dark and disturbing” and even “creepy.” I read the plot for the Hoffman tale, and he could put Stephen King to shame. 

The ballet was unsuccessful initially, though Tchaikovsky’s music, which was debuted before the ballet, was considered a classic score. Tchaikovsky, however, was unimpressed with the music he produced for it. In a letter to his employer, he complained “the awareness that things are not going well torments me and agonizes me to tears, to the point of sickness… As we now know, it would become a classic. Through years of adaptations, the ballet and its music have become a Christmas staple. 

In Hoffman’s version, the main character is named Marie. The name changed to Clara when Alexandre Dumas (Count of Monte Christo) lightened the story in his 1844 adaptation. It was the Dumas adaptation of which Tchaikovsky wrote the musical score. 

Would you believe viewers of the original ballet complained there were too many children in the show. Worse, due to portrayals of certain cultures, the present-day ballet is considered racist by the woke media. 

Anyway, nitpickers aside, a Christmas Eve party at Clara’s home includes her godfather Drosselmeyer, who has brought gifts. This includes four life-like dolls who will come to life and then dance superbly – always a favorite part of the show. (My cousin Heather once was one of those dolls.) 

Drosselmeyer also brought a nutcracker for Clara, which becomes her favorite toy. Later than night in a dream, the nutcracker will come to life to help Clara fight off the mice being unleashed by the evil Mouse King, who turns out to be the very Drosselmeyer himself! I’ll have you know Webber girls have been soldiers fighting off those mice for over a decade. At this show, it was my 6 y/o granddaughter, London, who bravely kept those mice at bay, before making her exit stage right banging on her little drum. In Christmas’s past, both my daughter, Becky and then later her daughter, Khya heroically fought off those infernal mice as well. 

During the battle, Clara throws her slipper at the villain, allowing the nutcracker a chance to stab the Mouse King. After the mice are vanquished, the nutcracker transforms into a handsome prince (what else) and he and Clara travel to a moonlit pine forest where various sizes of snowflakes prance to a waltz. Our daughter Sarah was once one of those snowflakes, among many other roles through the years. They two retreat to his kingdom as Act One ends. 

In Act Two Clara and Handsome travel to the Land of Sweets, ruled by the Plum Fairy. The Prince informs the Fairy how Clara saved him, causing a celebration of sweets from around the world. They all dance for the couple, including the famed Russian dance, of which my granddaughter Ruby nailed her performance . She was also a Spanish dancer in the show. 

It is at this celebration we see Mother Ginger make her appearance, a large woman with a giant hoop skirt with children underneath, emerging as bonbons in red tights to perform another waltz. My niece, Tami was once a bonbon. 

Kudo’s to Amy Morris and staff, the owner of the Paula Aubrey School of Dance (whom I saw when she herself might have been a wee bonbon.) It’s quite a production folks, and you would do well to check it out. 

Merry Christmas my friends.