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The Boston blues

‘Urban Nutcracker’ expands to fill the Shubert Theatre stage

Celina Colby
Celina Colby
Celina Colby is an arts and travel reporter with a fondness for Russian novels.... VIEW BIO
The Boston blues
Ruth Whitney and Ronnie Thomas in “The Urban Nutcracker. PHOTO: PETER PARADISE

For the first year in its history, “The Urban Nutcracker,” created and produced by Tony Williams, will be presented at the Shubert Theatre. This venue change has led to a number of other new additions to create a bigger, grander version of the Boston-centric show. The endearing production, which runs Dec. 20 through Dec. 30, takes the classic “Nutcracker” story and grounds it in the streets of Boston’s South End, with diverse dancers and musical styles representing the city.

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The larger space of the Shubert allows the show to have a live band on stage for about half of the dance numbers. In some cases, the band play with a recording for a fusion sound. Williams has upgraded the show’s Boston set to include more notable locations, including his own Tony Williams Dance Studio in Jamaica Plain and the Hatch Shell, where the band is situated. The Russian dance scene will also include an extra number in the voguing style of the 1980s.

A scene from “The Urban Nutcracker.” PHOTO: PETER PARADISE

A scene from “The Urban Nutcracker.” PHOTO: PETER PARADISE

Williams created “The Urban Nutcracker” in 2001 because he had been steeped in the dance since childhood but had never felt it reflected his identity as a biracial dancer. “From the get-go, I was multicultural. In the early days, when I first started to dance, I was in a white world and I was mixed-race. And that made me feel inferior. I felt like I couldn’t be myself there.”

And so he began creating something different with his dance school. At the time, hip-hop and tap classes were especially popular. “I had recently heard Duke Ellington’s rendition of the ‘Nutcracker’ from 1961 and I thought, ‘Why don’t I incorporate the jazzy hip-hop dances that I do?’” he says. “I took all these styles and I stewed them together.”

Kyre Ambrose as a rat, Sophia Garufi as a rat, and Ronnie Thomas as the Nutcracker Prince in “The Urban Nutcracker.” PHOTO: PETER PARADISE

Kyre Ambrose as a rat, Sophia Garufi as a rat, and Ronnie Thomas as the Nutcracker Prince in “The Urban Nutcracker.” PHOTO: PETER PARADISE

This year, the show will feature Khalid Hill, the original tap teacher of the Tony Williams Dance School, in the prologue. A dance group from Harlem will also join the cast for a few steps. Williams hopes audience members, seeing dancers on stage who look like them, will be encouraged to pursue the art. He hopes to continue growing the diverse casting in future years.

Williams says he created “The Urban Nutcracker” for everyone, and he hopes that’s who shows up to see it. “It’s a show that’s not just for daughters and moms, but for everyone. It’s got humor, pathos and high-level ballet dancing.”

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