New Stars for Festival’s Nutcracker

By Steven Libowitz   |   December 7, 2017
Arlington Theatre hosts The Nutcracker, which keeps Patricia Delgado on her toes as the Sugar Plum Fairy

As always, Festival Ballet’s production of The Nutcracker – at the Arlington on Saturday and Sunday is performed by a huge cast and backed by a full orchestra conducted by Elise Unruh playing Tchaikovsky’s iconic score. Kids of all ages who are attend the company’s school are augmented in a big way by several stars from big ballet companies, including Patricia Delgado, who makes her company debut as the Sugar Plum Fairy after recently retiring from Miami City Ballet to dance new Christopher Wheelson choreography for Brigadoon on Broadway. New York City Ballet’s Chase Finlay, who portrays the Cavalier, returns to the Arlington stage for the third consecutive season, once again choosing the festival production over other offers from around the country for one of just two outside contract performances a year at Nutcracker season.

The new Snow Queen and Snow Cavalier, Michelle Meltzer and Braeden Barnes, perform with Ariel Dance Chicago and Visceral Dance Chicago, respectively; they’re coming to town from another Nutcracker in Florida earlier in the month. And after a few years hiatus, the Arabian Cavalier will once again be portrayed by Darion Smith, the homegrown Santa Barbara High School graduate who began his career at SBCC studying with Kay Fulton and danced with State Street Ballet before founding Janunsphere Dance Company in New York City.

The production also features a further infusion of new choreography from Festival Ballet’s artistic director Aimee Lopez, a Santa Barbara native who went through Festival Ballet school’s entire program, left for college and her early professional career before returning to serve as a guest artist. She danced opposite Smith in the Arabian number back in 2010. Lopez took over running the company and directing the classic from Denise Rinaldi just last year.

“That’s one of the fun parts about the show,” she said. “There is a lot of artistic freedom in how you tell the story. Last year, I wanted to make sure I didn’t just erase what Denise did. But there’s more of my choreography this time. I’m slowly chipping away.”

One of her innovations – “Journey through the Stars”, a spaced-themed method to get Clara from the Snow Forest to the Kingdom of Sweets, from a concept by Valery Huston – is back again after proving popular in its debut last year.

“Traditionally, we’ve used angels,” Lopez explained. “But we were trying to get away from anything too religious and be a bit more cosmic.

A star backdrop goes behind an otherwise black stage while the dancers have lights in their costumes. “All you see is their skirts together,” Lopez said. “It’s far out there, but pretty neat. They look like little nebulas on the stage.”

More stars on a night already filled with them.

Street Music Grabs Singer by the Guts

For Eric Gutman, the lure of singing and dancing on stage is so strong, it’s like that line about trying to leave the mafia from The Godfather. The one about “I think I’m out, but they keep pulling me back.”

Gutman spent more than three years with the Tony and Grammy Award-winning smash hit musical Jersey Boys, both on Broadway and with the touring company, eventually performing three of the four lead roles in the true life story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. He left behind the popular musical – which just had its Santa Barbara debut at the Granada at the end of the month – in favor of family when his wife got pregnant, trading a studio apartment in Hell’s Kitchen for a homestead in his native suburban Detroit area.

Then his local theater company commissioned him to write a cabaret, which became an autobiographical one-act musical about his road to Broadway and back home again. A planned one-shot show turned into a weekend engagement and eventually led to lots more touring with his original spectacle, and this was after he briefly jumped back into the Chicago cast of Jersey Boys. Now, while he still performs From Broadway to Obscurity, which features many well-known songs and celebrity impressions along with the heartwarming narrative, Gutman has reunited with other former Jersey Boys cast members as part of Under The Streetlamp, a concert celebration of classic hits of the American radio songbook from the 1950s to 1970s. Described as a doo-wop quartet with a modern-day Rat Pack vibe, Streetlamp features tight harmonies and slick dance moves that evoke that innocent earlier era when singing on a street corner was a normal pastime.

“My dad brought me up on this music, and I just love it,” Gutman said over the phone this week. “This was back in the days when you didn’t have Sirius with 80 different radio stations. Everybody played this music, and we all appreciated it. We’d take car rides and go back and forth picking songs to sing. I’d do ‘Rockin’ Robin’ or ‘Blue Moon’ and they’d he’d do a Beatles song. Those songs transcend age and race, and I’m so thrilled I get to perform them.”

This time through, Under The Streetlamp returns to the Granada on Saturday night with its Christmas show, Hip to the Holidays. The revue mixes up holiday classics and golden oldies, some drawn from the group’s Every Day’s a Holiday album.

“You get to hear some really cool version of Christmas favorites, done up with our special doo-wop blend,” said Gutman, who is in his first Streetlamp holiday tour having just joined the cast back in March. “It’s a lot fun for us, and the audience is loving it.”

Gutman was most tickled by one fan at a recent show at a casino in Oklahoma, he said. “There was this sweet old lady in the front row who turned out to be 84. She was bopping her head most of the night, but then she got up and danced like I’ve never seen anyone dance before. She was all over the place! It was amazing. Afterward, she came up and told us said we made her forget her age. That’s the kind of thing we live for.”

The four cast members do their own share of dancing in Streetlamp too, offering choreographed patterns from the quartet’s Shonn Wiley that aim to recreate the iconic steps of the time period, Gutman said. “We’re moving our butts off on a lot of the songs.”

Not so much with the one that currently serves as Gutman’s favorite in the holiday show – a version of “Ave Maria”. “It’s an incredible arrangement, nothing you’ve ever heard before, and it’s absolutely amazing to sing.”

Meanwhile, although Streetlamp reunites him not only with fellow former Jersey Boys stars but also several Four Seasons songs, Gutman is still happy to belt them out again night after night.

“They’re great songs!” he said with a laugh. “We do as much Beach Boys and The Drifters as we sing the Four Seasons. It’s great music. Who could get tired of that?”

Moscow on the Holiday

The Arlington hosts another big production of Tchaikovsky’s holiday classic on Wednesday evening, when Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker comes to the historic theater as part of its 25th anniversary North America tour. The over-the-top offering – which boasts a 60-foot Christmas tree, seven backdrops, 10-foot tall puppets, 40 dancers, and 100 costumes – assembles leading soloists from a number of prestigious Russian companies including the Mariinsky, Kiev National, Perm Ballet, Odessa State, and Almaty State, the largest such cast ever for the three concurrent tours.

Classical Christmas

Actress Angela Cartwright serves as special guest narrator for the Santa Barbara Choral Society’s Hallelujah Project 5 at the Lobero on December 9-10. Best known for her early roles as Brigitta Von Trapp in The Sound of Music and as Linda Williams on TV’s Make Room for Daddy, Cartwright will read “’Twas the Night Before Christmas” as part of the concert with full orchestra that brings Handel’s famed Hallelujah Chorus plus seasonal favorites by Vivaldi, Bricusse, Tyzik, and others. Info at 963-0761 or

Santa Barbara Youth Opera singers celebrate the holiday season with songs from around the world at an concert in the intimate environs of a candlelit Presidio Chapel on Saturday afternoon, December 9. The program includes Benjamin Britten’s seasonal classic “A Ceremony of Carols”, with several guests joining music director Erin McKibben, who is also readying Santa Barbara Revels’s new original show for next weekend at the Lobero.

Santa Barbara Master Chorale presents its 21st annual Holiday Concert, Carol Sing & Party at 7 pm on Sunday, December 10, at Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara, where the program will feature Navidad Nuestra, a series of songs composed by Ariel Ramirez, plus guest classical guitarist Anthony Ybarra, and an appearance by the American Riviera Children’s Chorus. Details at 682-6516 or

Competing Carols

A cast of local actors take on an abbreviated adaptation of Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol at the newly renamed Alcazar Theatre in Carpinteria (formerly Plaza Playhouse). Åsa Olsson directs the show, which has its final performances on December 8-10. That’s also the same weekend that Rubicon Theatre in Ventura opens its third annual production of the classic play, a critically acclaimed adaptation by company co-founder/artistic director Karyl Lynn Burns. Veteran actors Peter Van Norden (RTC’s Taking Sides, Copenhagen) and Emmy Award-winner Joe Spano (NCIS, Hill Street Blues) reprise their roles as Scrooge and Marley, respectively, heading a cast of 27 in the innovative telling of the timeless tale of transformation and redemption that plays through Saturday, December 23.


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