Pennsylvania Ballet pranks The Nutcracker

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No other show grinds on the way The Nutcracker does for Pennsylvania Ballet. It's the company's big money-maker of the year, drawing audiences for nearly two dozen repeats. But after night after night - and matinee after matinee - of perfectly aligned corps of snowflakes in the Academy of Music, the company traditionally lets its hair down in the final performance. This year, for the last show on New Year's eve, the pranks didn't go unappreciated by the audience.

Among the departures from the norm:

One of the mice sneaked onto stage in a scene well after all rodents were supposed to be dead and gone. In another scene, ballerinas whipped out New Years' horns and favors. At the end of the ballet, the Prince fist-bumped the Sugarplum Fairy.

I caught two musical New Years' references: in the Waltz of the Flowers, the horns deployed Vienna-style afterbeats, coming in early on the second beat, and a hair late on the third. And at the very end, when the ship is carrying Marie and the Prince into the sky, the orchestra departed from Tchaikovsky's slowly rising arpeggio and instead quoted Auld Lang Syne.

Mother Ginger proved a quick wit. When a cell phone went off in the hall, she pantomimed to the offending audience member by stretching her pinky and thumb to her lips and ear, mouthing the words "call me."

How did this year's Nutcracker perform, financially speaking? We'll report when figures are in, but ushers said the hall was more full than usual. The fact that they ran out of programs indicates at least that audiences were more robust than expected.

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