"In the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, he shouted out: 'Mom! When is the rat coming?' That never left me. I said, 'One day I'll do ['The Nutcracker'] in a fun way," recalled the award-winning actress, director, writer, choreographer, teacher and owner of the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Culver City.
That day came in December 2010, when she debuted "Debbie Allen’s Hot Chocolate Nutcracker” at UCLA's Royce Hall. Not surprisingly, it features three wisecracking rat-narrators, one of whom is played by Allen.
The ballet's overall structure is similar to the beloved ballet classic. A precocious adolescent heroine -- Kara instead of Clara -- receives a nutcracker doll (filled with hot chocolate). He later turns into a prince and takes Kara on a magical journey.
As with most “Nutcrackers,” the cast is full of children. The students are from Allen's studio as well as a smattering of professionals and children from schools throughout the city. It’s in the details, however, where she has turned “Nutcracker” conventions upside down.
Tchaikovsky has been replaced with original music from performers such as Arturo Sandoval, Mariah Carey and Allen’s now-grown child, Norman E. Nixon Jr., a.k.a. Thump. The toy soldiers wage battle with flamenco-stamping cockroaches, because the rats have gone on strike.
Allen's influential friends help her out: Actress Raven-Symoné appears as Cousin Rae Rae. Quincy Jones, Phylicia Rashad and Denzel Washington are among her supporters and underwriters.
This year's two public performances are already sold out, but tickets are still available for the gala fundraiser on Thursday.
Allen said that her mentor, the late theater director Gil Cates, had encouraged her to create a holiday show. She acknowledged “The Nutcracker’s” omnipresence but said she felt there was still room to create a new “classic.”
“It’s always been one of my favorites. I think things that are that entrenched into our society and culture deserve another look and maybe have fresh air breathed into it."
-- Laura Bleiberg
"Debbie Allen's Hot Chocolate Nutcracker," UCLA's Royce Hall, 340 Royce Drive, 7 p.m. Thursday, $125, (310) 202-1711 or www.thehotchocolatenutcracker.com
Photo: "Debbie Allen's Hot Chocolate Nutcracker." Credit: Lee Tonks