Debbie Allen's new 'Hot Chocolate Nutcracker' gets Goldstar award
The early returns are in, and "The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker," a Tchaikovsky-free original variation written, directed and choreographed by Debbie Allen and performed by her Debbie Allen Dance Academy, appears to have crowd-pleaser potential.
It had its premiere Dec. 9-11 at UCLA's Royce Hall and already has picked up its first award: the Nutty -- as Goldstar, the online discount ticket site, dubs its annual National Nutcracker Award.
The award, announced Wednesday, was determined by the average ratings given by dance-goers who bought tickets through Goldstar to the various productions of "The Nutcracker" that were available on the site.
With 2,418 ratings submitted for all the "Nutcrackers," Allen's creation topped the bunch with an average score of 4.9 out of 5, said Goldstar's spokeswoman, Patch Canada. And the competition wasn't a bunch of pushovers: Other "Nutcrackers" Goldstar handled this season included performances by Chicago's Joffrey Ballet (which bills its show as "America's #1 Nutcracker"), Washington Ballet, Boston Ballet, Seattle's Pacific Northwest Ballet and Mark Morris Dance Group, whose darker, updated reading of the tale, "The Hard Nut," was performed this year at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
The prize is $2,500 for the Los Angeles dance school's programs, and a place alongside the three previous Nutty winners: Boston Ballet, the Kirov Ballet of the Mariinsky Theatre (for its 2008 performances at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion) and House Theatre of Chicago, which also dispenses with Tchaikovsky and uses an original score.
Allen had some highly credentialed help: Portions of the music were written for the show by jazz star Arturo Sandoval and Vietnamese pianist-composer Chau-Giang Thi Nguen, and Mariah Carey and James Ingram OKd the use of some of their songs.
Allen, her former "Fame" cast-mate Carlo Imperato and Jaleel White played three wisecracking mice who narrate the tale, and TV star Raven-Symone played Myrtle the Mouse Queen.
Antoine Jenkins, spokesman for the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, said that there were six performances -- three for student audiences, two for the general public and a gala fundraiser co-chaired by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith and Denzel and Pauletta Washington (who weren't able to be in the audience), and Quincy Jones (who was). Berry Gordy also caught the show.
The academy relies on an annual winter gala to raise money, Jenkins said, and in the summer Allen began working on "The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker." Now, he said, "it will be our show every year. She's open to taking it to other venues, but it all comes down to funding."
-- Mike Boehm
Photos: Jaleel White, from left, Debbie Allen, Raven-Symone and Carlo Imperato in "The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker"; Bollywood sequence from "The Hot Chocolate Nutcracker." Credits: Lee Tonks Photography.