Thinking about checking out Pacific Northwest Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” for the first time? Behold, a tinsel-bedecked user’s guide for 2019! Sweet dreams.
“Nutcracker” runs Nov. 29 through Dec. 28 at Marion Oliver McCaw Hall. Ticket prices vary widely, ranging from $27-$189 for adults and $27-$152 for children 12 and under; note that all children, even babes in arms, require a ticket. If you’re looking to spend as little as possible, note that PNB has $27 and $40 seats available for every performance, in the second-tier rear and middle (though they sell out quickly!). Also, PNB will be running a Black Friday promotion, beginning Nov. 21 and running through Dec. 2, offering significant discounts for certain performances. If money is no object, note that you can book a VIP Box Sweet for $2,000, which includes box seats for up to seven guests, two parking passes, a gift basket and refreshments delivered to your seats. For all ticketing possibilities, see pnb.org.
When choosing seats, consider my favorites: the Gallery sections on either side of the orchestra seats, which have wonderfully unobstructed views of the stage due to a far steeper slope. (If you’re short, these seats are a godsend; just ask my 5-foot mother.) The lower the seat’s number in the Gallery section, the closer the seat is to the center of the theater; a seat numbered 1 or 2 midway up the section is perfection.
As you decide what date to go, note that some performances feature extra entertainment — without an extra cost. For performances on Nov. 29, Nov. 30, Dec. 1 (12:30 p.m. only), Dec. 7 (2 p.m. only), Dec. 8 (12:30 p.m. only) and Dec. 15 (12:30 p.m. only), there will be special activities in the lobby for young Nut-goers: crafts, magicians, dance classes and more. For the matinee performances on Dec. 7, 8, 14 and 15, Music Center of the Northwest will host an Instrument Petting Zoo, at which audience members of all ages can get to know the instruments that make that irresistible Tchaikovsky score.
“Meet the Dancers” brings members of the cast to the lobby after the show on Dec. 1 (5:30 p.m.), Dec. 13, Dec. 22 (12:30 p.m.) and Dec. 23 (2 p.m.). “Free Nutcracker Night,” on the evening performances of Dec. 12 and Dec. 18, will send every audience member home with a 10-inch keepsake Nutcracker. Other special nights include Ugly Holiday Sweater Night (which should be self-explanatory; Dec. 20 at 7:30 p.m.), and two Fund for the Needy benefit performances (Dec. 26, 12:30 and 5:30 p.m.; note that tickets for these performances are $5 more).
Also, the following shows will feature local high-school choirs performing holiday music in the lobby: Dec. 1 (5:30 p.m., Holy Names Academy Vocal Ensemble), Dec. 6 (7:30 p.m., Liberty High School Jazz Choir “Phatt Jazzers”), Dec. 7 (2 p.m., Tumwater High School Notables), Dec. 8 (5:30 p.m., Rogers High School Choir), Dec. 13 (7:30 p.m., Peninsula High School Chamber Choir), Dec. 14 (2 p.m., Kamiak High School MidKnights), Dec. 14 (7:30 p.m., Washougal High School Choir), Dec. 15 (5:30 p.m., Ballard High School Vocal Jazz), Dec. 19 (7:30 p.m., Ingraham High School Choir), Dec. 20 (7:30 p.m., Peninsula High School Chamber Choir), Dec. 21 (7:30 p.m., Spectrum Choral Academy Ensemble), and Dec. 22 (12:30 p.m., Rainier Youth Choir Consonare).
Tickets can be bought in person at PNB’s box office (301 Mercer St.), by phone at 206-441-2424 or online at pnb.org; be wary of tickets offered by third-party sellers. And buy as soon as you can; due to dynamic pricing, ticket prices get higher as the show’s date gets closer.
If you’re bringing young kids, prep them beforehand by playing the “Nutcracker” score at home. PNB’s website offers a selection of hints for helping small children enjoy the performance.
At the theater
“The Nutcracker” is a short ballet, about two hours and 10 minutes long, including a 25-minute intermission. Note, though, that the lobby will be open two hours before the performance, as will the McCaw Hall restaurant, Prelude, which serves both brunch and dinner. Drinks and snacks — including mouse-shaped cookies, for whose deliciousness I can personally vouch — are available at all concession stands. If you want to enjoy these during intermission, you’d be wise to preorder before the show to avoid long intermission lines.
For a special treat, you can reserve the Nutcracker Suites for intermission, which offers guests access to a private, festively decorated banquet room where a Nutcracker-themed buffet is served. It’s $35 each (adult or child), and includes a full menu of entrees, desserts and beer/sparkling wine for the grown-ups. Note that space in the Suite is limited and it sometimes sells out. There’s an adults-only suite offered at select performances, while the family-friendly suite is available for all performances.
You don’t have to pay extra to enjoy the various photo opportunities in the lobby (particularly popular: a chance to pose under Mother Ginger’s enormous skirt); just be sure to put that smartphone away before the performance starts. And, if you’re attending with kids, stop on the ground level of the lobby — just behind the main entrance — and pick up free booster cushions.
Watching the show
PNB’s current “Nutcracker” is still relatively new to the area; it premiered here in 2015, following the 32-year run of a beloved local version choreographed by Kent Stowell and designed by Maurice Sendak. But this “Nutcracker” goes back much further: It was originally choreographed by George Balanchine in 1954, for New York City Ballet. PNB’s sets and costumes are unique to this production, designed by Ian Falconer, author of the bestselling children’s book series featuring Olivia the pig. (Watch for Olivia, before the show; she’s in the theater. Look up.)
If you’re new to this version, a few things not to miss:
- A favorite saying of Balanchine’s was “The Nutcracker is the tree.” The undisputed star of Act I, this one is decorated with 450 lights and grows to a height of 40 feet.
- That glorious star that shines over the snow at the end of Act I is a Dale Chihuly sculpture, “Winter Star,” originally created as part of the artist’s “Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000.”
- The angels who usher in Act II — all PNB School students — were inspired by the footless paper angels on Balanchine’s own Christmas tree; note how they seem to hover across the floor without touching it.
- Watch closely at the end of the Sugar Plum Fairy/Cavalier pas de deux for an ethereal gliding effect that, executed properly, is utterly magical.
Need more “Nuts”?
PNB’s production is certainly the biggest and the sparkliest in town, but it’s hardly the only one. Here are just a few “Nuts” to crack elsewhere in the community:
- “The Hard Nut” is choreographer Mark Morris’ gender-bending love letter to “The Nutcracker,” set to the familiar Tchaikovsky score (played by a live orchestra) and playfully channeling the swinging ’70s. Dec. 6-15 at the Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle; $35-$105; stgpresents.org, 1-800-982-2787
- Evergreen City Ballet will perform “The Nutcracker” at the Meydenbauer Center Theatre in Bellevue, Dec. 6-8, at Auburn Performing Arts Center, Dec. 13-15, and the Renton IKEA Performing Arts Center, Dec. 20-22; $40-$45; evergreencityballet.org, 425-228-6800.
- International Ballet Theater’s “The Nutcracker” takes place Dec. 13-23 at Meydenbauer Center Theatre, 11100 N.E. 6th St., Bellevue; $25-$53; ibtbellevue.org, 800-838-3006.
- Olympic Ballet Theatre presents “The Nutcracker” Dec. 13-15 at Everett Performing Arts Center and Dec. 19-23 at Edmonds Center for the Arts; $25-$48; olympicballet.org, 425-774-7570.
- And, for grown-ups only: “Land of the Sweets: The Burlesque Nutcracker” plays at the Triple Door in downtown Seattle, Dec. 12-29; $48.75-$75; thetripledoor.net, 206.838.4333
This story has been updated to reflect the correct number of years for the Stowell/Sendak “Nutcracker.”