'Nutcracker Rouge' review — sweet, sultry, and sublime holiday fun for adults

Read our five-star review of Nutcracker Rouge, the annual holiday burlesque variety show performed by Company XIV at Théâtre XIV in Bushwick, Brooklyn.

Gillian Russo
Gillian Russo

A club remix of the Nutcracker theme that melts, like chocolate candy on the tongue, into a sultry live rendition of "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)"? That's entertainment, baby.

It's the first of many holiday gifts Company XIV offers up in Nutcracker Rouge, the Brooklyn burlesque troupe's flagship show now in its 13th year. A loose adaptation of the classic Nutcracker ballet, this version unfolds as something of an erotic circus (a fantastic alternative for adults who've already seen the ballet many times over). Go to Lincoln Center and you can see the Big Apple Circus and The Nutcracker 50 feet away, but go to Théâtre XIV and get the thrills of both at once — with some extra naughtiness to sweeten the deal.

Nutcracker Rouge zips straight to the part where the Land of Sweets comes alive in young Marie-Claire's dreams. Except this Marie-Claire is slightly older, and her dream is just as spicy as it is sugary. Drosselmeyer, traditionally a magical old godfather, is now a seductive emcee (a powerhouse Storm Marrero at my performance) presiding over a living candy cart of irresistible wares. Turkish delights, cotton candy, and candy canes come alive to indulge Marie-Claire; so do champagne and absinthe.

Absinthe (Uys du Buisson) manifests as an utterly hypnotic and fluid-as-liquid hoop routine. A flurry of gingerbread people delight with a playful slapstick act. The Sugar Plum Fairy and her Prince captivate with a tender-to-mischievous-to-ferocious pas de deux, and Turkish Delight (TJ) ends an impressive contortionist routine in a handstand, tantalizingly hovering over Marie-Claire as if to say, "Eat me up."

It's impossible not to eat up the craft and strength on display for Nutcracker Rouge's two hours. Nevermind that striptease is part of all the acts; you wouldn't be able to take your eyes off the cast's flawless execution of Company XIV founder Austin McCormick's routines, from ballet to acrobatics to aerialism and more, even without it. Audible gasps of awe erupted from my audience as Candy Cane (Nolan) climbed above our heads onto an aerial hoop and sliced down the aisle, swift and sharp as a razor.

Meticulously crafted and awe-inspiring as the acts are, much of Nutcracker Rouge lacks a slight go-for-broke edge exhibited by Company XIV's more recent shows, like the neighboring Cocktail Magique and recently closed Seven Sins. That's but a trifle (pun intended), though — and if anything, it's a testament to the company's growth and innovation in the last 10 years. Nutcracker Rouge compensates with its clever, original twist on Marie-Claire and the Sugar Plum Fairy — one that, without spoiling, suggests that a little indulgence can be transformative and powerful, if only we let it.

Nutcracker Rouge is at Théâtre XIV through January 27. Get Nutcracker Rouge tickets on New York Theatre Guide.

Photo credit: Company XIV performers in Nutcracker Rouge. (Photo by Mark Shelby Perry)

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