Savannah Ballet Theatre’s Nutcracker is a love letter to the Hostess City

The beloved holiday classic returns to Savannah and Tybee Island

Dancers Kelci Walker and Zack Frongillo from Savannah Ballet Theatre's production of 'The Nutcracker.'

If Halloween is incomplete without watching “Nightmare Before Christmas,” Thanksgiving a bust if you miss The Macy’s Parade, then what would the Christmas holiday season be without the familiar sights and sounds of “The Nutcracker?”

In recent years, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented or curbed many seasonal traditions, but The Savannah Ballet Theatre (SBT) is “dancing for joy” over celebrating this 2021 holiday season with four live productions of The Nutcracker. Two of the performances (1 and 7 p.m. on Dec. 18) will be shown for the very first time in the Johnny Mercer Theatre.

“It’s so great that we’re able to bring this production back in front of a live audience. This will be the first time in two years,” said Abby McCuen, managing director and Program Coordinator for The Savannah Ballet.

In addition to the two performances at the Johnny Mercer Theatre, the company will also do two performances at the Tybee Post Theater on Tybee Island at 7 p.m. Wed., Dec. 15, and Thur., Dec. 16.

The legendary Tchaikovsky score is the resolute sound of a joyful Christmas and fuels the performance of this classic holiday ballet, showcasing the story of a young girl’s dream of a holiday gift coming to life to become her beloved prince.

“‘The Nutcracker’ is a long-standing tradition that reminds people about being with family and the magic of the season,” McCuen said. “The Christmas spirit has a special place in people’s hearts.”

Even though SBT had to scale the cast down from 150 to half, the production is still vibrant, full, and festive, McCuen assured. “The company is ready to entertain with performers ranging in age from 3 to 63, supplemented with visiting performing artists.”

Zack Frongillo is one such guest artist.

Originally from Colorado, Frongillo began doing ballet when he was 16 and eventually went on to receive a B.F.A. in dance performance choreography from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He worked performing with the Vegas Golden Knights (of the NHL) and that is what eventually led him here to Savannah.

Frongillo now works with the Savannah Bananas, but also lends his time performing with Savannah Ballet Theatre. 

He will be one of the featured dances in “The Nutcracker.”

“I’m actually several characters,” he said with a laugh. “In particular, I play the Russian Variation and the Rat King. Even though it’s hard to always see the audience because of the bright lights, you can often feel their reaction and hope they’re enjoying my efforts and the overall performance.”

As a guest artist, he can see the camaraderie within the company firsthand. “It’s a healthy, supportive situation… everyone is quite prideful of what we’re doing.”

“This dream world is magical and special,” Frangillo agreed. “The story of ‘The Nutcracker’ has stood the test of time because of its magic and the message of hope and love.”

Most productions of “The Nutcracker” often pay homage to the town where it is running at the time. This is no exception to SBT’s upcoming effort.

“Our show relates to Savannah through a representation of Broughton Street on stage,” Frangillo said. “There’s also a scene at a Bananas game, at Leopold’s, and we’re working in local references while staying true to the traditions of the story with Clara, her dream, the Rat King, and everything that transpires.”

In addition to the traditional show, SBT is offering a free matinee performance at 1 p.m. that will be a special low-sensory show for those who may have sensory sensitivities.

McCuen explained, “During this performance, patrons can view the second act of The Nutcracker in a relaxed setting. The house lights will be on throughout the show, the music volume will be lowered, and patrons will be able to move about the theatre without disturbing others.”

She added, “The Savannah Ballet is the first arts organization in Savannah to offer this incredible programming for this deserving but underserved community.”

This production is made possible by the City of Savannah’s ACE Grant.

“The City of Savannah has supported Savannah Ballet Theatre programming for many years,” said McCuen. “In addition to these special performances, the grant allowed SBT dancers to provide after-school dance classes at SCCPSS Title 1 schools. This grant has been a game-changer for our organization and we are eternally grateful to Mayor Johnson and the city commissioners.”

McCuen is personally excited about the new low-sensory performance. “It was my baby [idea] that I came up with a few years ago. I wanted to have an experience for kids with Autism Sensory Disorder, as well as people who have sensory sensitivities. We just want folks to have a wonderful experience that brings them holiday joy in a safe environment.”

McCuen encourages folks to plan ahead (the Civic Center has a mask mandate), bring a group of loved ones, and disappear into the journey.

“This is the time of year for friends and family…to be together and to celebrate,” she said. “We’ve had a rough two years, so we all deserve to come out and suspend reality for a couple of hours.”

Frongillo agreed and said as a performer he is grateful for the opportunity to share and see the results of what he’s worked toward.

“Performances like this are something you dream about,” he said. “It’s gratifying to bring joy and happiness to the people in the audience—young and old. The connectivity between the performers and the audience is what the Spirit of Christmas is all about – joy, positive energy, and an all-around good feel.”

Tickets for the Tybee Post Theatre performances on Dec. 15 and 16 are $25 and will be sold at Tybee Post Theater Box Office. Tickets for the Johnny Mercer Theatre performances on Dec. 18 are $25 and can be purchased through Ticketmaster. 

The low-sensory performance at 1 p.m. on Dec. 18 is free and open to the public, thanks to the City of Savannah’s ACE grant.

SBT is Savannah and southeast Georgia’s only professional dance company. Their mission is to develop and showcase the talent of dedicated Savannah dancers alongside top professional dancers who train in the studio and engage in educational outreach and promotion of the art of dance within the community.

For more information about The Nutcracker or the Savannah Ballet Theatre & School of Dance, please visit savannahballettheatre.org.


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