In its 12th year, “Land of the Sweets” attracts fans of all sorts and feels more witty and polished than ever.

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It’s one thing to do a striptease. It’s quite another to do one upside down.

That’s what aerial artist Tova Da Luna pulls off (so to speak) in “Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker,” Lily Verlaine and Jasper McCann’s annual “spectacle of ecdysiastic pageantry.” (“Ecdysiast,” as some may know, is a term for “striptease artist” coined by H.L. Mencken in 1940, from the Greek ecdysis, meaning “a stripping or casting off.”)

Da Luna is one of 15 performers who bring serious acrobatic, balletic and/or comedic chops to their ecdysiastic tasks. And this year, for the first time, Verlaine and McCann have thrown live music into the mix, lifting “Land of the Sweets” to a whole new level. A crackerjack nine-piece band led by Kate Olson delivers the goods with its jazz spin on Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker.”


“Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker”

Various times daily, except for Christmas, through Dec. 28. The Triple Door, 216 Union St., Seattle; $45-$70 (206-838-4333 or

Now in its 12th year, “Sweets” attracts adult fans of every stripe, style and sexual persuasion. It’s been a few years since I checked in on it, and this year’s incarnation feels more polished and witty than ever.

Verlaine returns as “The Countess of Coffee,” who’s helped by two Arabian bodyguards (Paris Original and Trojan Original) into a hot-tub-sized cup of steaming latte. Babette Le Fave reprises her juggling act in silhouette, “The Tree at Midnight,” in which two glowing ornaments zip around and bounce off her as she divests herself of clothing. But there are some new elements as well.

Asteria Mei graces two routines: a solo turn as “A Wolf in Shepherd’s Clothing” and a gender-bending duet with Paris Original where, dressed in contrasting blue and red kimonos, they act as “Emissaries from the Land of Tea.” She’s a droll, radiant performer with a light, lithe ballet technique.

Patrick Jeffrey, another newcomer, is a different kind of knockout. With gymnastic flair, he reinvents The Rat King, a role that local burlesque star Waxie Moon originated. Where Moon’s Rat King was a study in over-the-top grotesquerie, Jeffrey’s is more of a winsome stud, albeit one with a shoe fetish.

“Land of the Sweets” is notable for its gender-blind approach to clothing removal. In “The Volga Boys,” Jeffrey and Trojan Original are as much on display as Tory Peil and Marissa Quimby. All four seem to be having a Russophile hoot with it.

The show’s crack timing and the unexpected ways performers’ clothes suddenly are whisked off add to its humor. As for its spectacle, costume designer Stephanie Seymour and wig-creator/hair-stylist Shelby Adele Richardson deserve huge credit. Whether it’s the wig-as-whipped-cream confection that crowns the head of Verlaine’s Snow Queen or the peacock-tail half-skirts worn by Paris Original and Trojan Original in “The Countess of Coffee,” the lavish costuming is eye-popping.

One quibble: Emcee/crooner McCann, channeling Bing Crosby by way of Dean Martin, is a swell host, but too many of his song lyrics are hard to decipher. As grand as it is to have Olson’s live band, rather than the canned recordings of the past, the sound mix still needs some fine-tuning.