BY BILL PHILLIPS
Is the definition of a hit show in the number of performances or years it’s been running?
Either way, Judy Russell’s production of Nutcracker in Prince George fits the bill. It has been a Christmas tradition in the city since 1991. That’s 26 years for those who are counting.
Counting this year’s five performances, Judy Russell Presents will have staged 93 performances of the classic ballet since 1991. It started in 1991 and ran in 1992 and 1993 before switching to every second year.
“Nutracker is, in a way, quite unique because it’s a ballet and almost everything else we do is musical theatre or a drama,” Russell said Wednesday during a break in rehearsals. “The Nutcracker is auditioned. That’s unique because it’s rare that you tell people ‘no, you can’t do something’ when they want to. And it’s unique because it’s been a staple of entertainment in this city since 1991.”
This year’s production, this weekend at Vanier Hall, will be the 15th running of Nutcracker.
One of the things that make the productions unique, and challenging, is that performers will come and go, but the show must go on.
“It’s a bit tricky, especially if you have a whole crop of young people moving up,” Russell said of dealing with new performers. “When they’re coming from the lower levels in the higher levels, the work is so demanding.”
One of the benefits of producing the ballet since 1991, is that it is almost a generational thing.
“One of the most exciting things is when you see a child who has grown up watching the ballet, step into a role that they’ve never learned and do and actually almost be able to do it by osmosis,” said Russell. “They’ve watched it, they’ve learned it, they’ve stood in the wings dreaming that they’re going to do and then it’s their turn.”
This year Owen Selkirk is taking on the lead role of the Prince. Selkirk worked with Russell on The Producers. The role of Clara will be shared by Kate McGowan, who has played Clara before, and Makenna Thiffault.
And, of course, the performance is supported by the wonderful music which, again, will be provided by the Prince George Symphony Orchestra.
“We work together a lot,” said Russell. “They’re bringing in the imports and filling out the orchestra so that it is more of an actual symphonic performance, rather than a stage band.”
There will be five performances this year: December 15 and 7:30 p.m.; December 16 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; and December 17 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are available at www.centralinteriortickets.com.
Russell encourages everyone to get out to live performances, whether it’s the Nutcracker or some other performance.
“The performing arts are really, really important,” she said. “We’re seeing more opportunity to go to theatre, to go to live performing arts in this city than we’ve ever seen before. It’s just a reminder to get off the couch, put away the remote control, and go hang out with living, breathing people and watch live performances that are never going to happen again the same way. Every single show is unique.”
That sentiment is echoed by John Brink, of the Brink Group of Companies, who has supported Russell’s performances over the years and has photos of the playbills lining his office walls.
“Judy Russell is special to the city,” he said, adding his daughters were taught dance by Russell. “I think it’s a real treasure for Prince George.”
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