Ballet Brings Back Its Jazz ‘Nutcracker’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Ballet Western Reserve will bring back its original jazz version of “The Nutcracker” this holiday season.

In the show, which premiered last year, the BWR takes the timeless ballet “The Nutcracker” and gives it a 1920s twist with live music provided by the Youngstown State University Jazz Ensemble.

Performances will be at 8 p.m. Dec. 6 ands 2 p.m. Dec. 8 at Stambaugh Auditorium.

The Dec. 6 performance is the same evening as the annual Holiday Parade and Tree Lighting in downtown Youngstown, and BWR hopes to add to the festivities of that evening.

“We are piggybacking off the tree lighting in hopes to draw people to the show,” says Katie Merrill, executive director of BWR.

The downtown ballet school likes to put its own spin on “The Nutcracker,” and in the past has given it other themes, including Youngstown history and even football.

The jazz version was a hit when it premiered last year and so the troupe decided to reprise it.

“We are so excited to bring this production back,” says  Merrill, noting that new elements have been added this year.

“The Lindy Hop dancers are really the new and exciting piece for this year,” says Merrill.

The cast is made up of 100 local children, ages 4 to 18, who auditioned for the roles. “This is open to students from other studios to participate,” says Merrill. 

Jacquelyn Cunningham, artistic director of BWR, is the architect of the jazz version. Her past BWR productions include “The Wizard of Oz,” “Dancing with the Starfish” and “The Mother Goose Suite.”

Cunningham says the jazz “Nutcracker” will look the part and will swap in celebrities from the era for certain characters.

“Costumes and characters will be incorporated to reflect the Golden Age of jazz,” she says. “Charlie Chaplin, Zelda Fitrzgerald and Al Capone as the Mouse King will all make appearances in this version of the classic ballet.”

The Jazz Ensemble, under the direction of YSU Prof. Kent Engelhardt, will perform an updated score featuring the music of Duke Ellington, Billy Strayhorn, Glenn Miller and more. 

The show is the Mahoning Valley’s only production of “The Nutcracker” with live music, Engelhardt points out.

Tickets are $19, $25 and $29 and available at the Stambaugh box office, online at and by phone at 330 259 0555.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.