Dozens of Nutcrackers are Nipping at Santa’s heels as Discounts and Audiences Grow

While they aren’t dropping free tickets to the Nutcracker down the chimney quite yet, it might not be long before they do. With so many productions of this holiday classic now on the boards, Santa’s popularity is being challenged. But in the midst of the annual Nutcracker frenzy, there are bargains to be had, and a lot of Nutcracker discounting going on. You can easily find tickets at half price for dozens of Nutcrackers from coast to coast on this special compilation page (Click Me) which probably includes your nearest metro area. Selling tickets at less than full price is better than having a seat go empty, right?

The popularity of this favorite ballet every Christmas has prompted a contest to find America’s “best” Nutcracker by our affiliate, Goldstar. Most of those listed have serious discounts, too, that’s what the links take you to. We’ve watched this phenomenon for years now, and indeed used to market the Nutcracker back when I was with the Boston Ballet. With the cost of tickets for a family outing approaching the level of a mortgage payment, it seems foolish to pay full price anymore.

The Snowflakes dance.

The Snowflakes dance.

Growing Like the Giant Christmas Tree in Act I

The kids love Nutcracker, but while visions of sugar plums may dance in their heads – if they even know a sugar plum from a toaster strudel – it’s visions of dollar bills dancing in the brains of America’s ballet companies which depend on the Nutcracker for as much as half their yearly revenue.

As Theresa Agovino of Crains NY Business wrote on 12/2/12 The Nutcracker at New York City Ballet (NYCB) is a cash cow. Just as retailers count on holiday shoppers for a big chunk of their annual sales, the ballet company generates 45% of its yearly revenue, or about $12 million, from the extravaganza.

Mother Ginger and her little ones.

Mother Ginger and her little ones.

Multiplying Like Mice

By now there are dozens of different versions of The Nutcracker, each company picking and choosing from the various elements from the original Ivanov-Petipa, as well as all the additions made by various directors and choreographers through the decades. We like the Kirov version shown in the clip at the top of this page. It is fussy, but elegant. Most of Act Two, though, is just plain fun.

So where does an old treasure like The Nutcracker fit into a ballet company’s mission? “It is very important to us,” said Katherine Brown, executive director of NYCB. “I just couldn’t imagine us not doing it.” The company’s version is without question the city’s most lavish rendition, but it’s far from the only one. In fact, it’s one of 22 productions in the city this year, up from 17 last year and 14 in 2010. The ballet’s proven popularity packs houses large and small, so companies of all sizes have been creating their own versions to bring in audiences, in the hopes of raising revenue that can help sustain them during the year. The hope is those who buy Nutcracker will return to see other shows throughout the year. It’s not clear, however. Although City Ballet fills 92% of its seats during Nutcracker, only 74% of its seats are sold during the rest of the year. An abundance of new entertainment options and people’s busier lives are among the reasons for the falloff, said Ms. Brown.

That Mortgage Payment

“While “Nutcracker” patrons may spend a certain amount at the gift shop, the real price of admission is, well, the price of admission,” writes Charles Passy in the Wall Street Journal. “And in that regard, ticket-buyers can end up paying dearly. To maximize income, ballet companies generally charge more for their “Nutcrackers” than for their regular productions. The New York City Ballet, for example, charges a top rate of $250 for a limited number of seats at its legendary staging by choreographer George Balanchine — or about $100 more than the top ticket price for many of its regular-season programs. For a family of four, that would translate into a four-figure hit.

City Ballet “is off the charts,” observed arts blogger James van Maanen in a 2011 column, noting that prices for the top tickets suggested the company is targeting the “1% rather than us 99 percenters.” To be fair, the company does have tickets ranging from $29 to $137, in line with its regular season prices of $29 to $155. And the $250 price, a spokesman points out, is for its “Sweet Seat” package that includes such perks as a souvenir book, photo op and gift shop discount. In fact, he adds, approximately 40% of all Nutcracker tickets are available at $89 or less.”

Why the Popularity?

The furious Mouse King meets his match.

The furious Mouse King meets his match.

Who doesn’t love the Christmas party that begins the evening, leading to the gift of the Nutcracker to young Clara. Or when she falls asleep, the moment when the Mouse King is thwarted. And as the first half ends, when it snows right there, on stage and the Snow Queen arrives. Or in the second act when Mother Ginger and her brood arrive on stage, along with the Chinese, Arabian and Russian dancers.

When she was alive, E. Virginia Williams who founded the Boston Ballet and I would sit and try to figure out how to fit all those children on stage, since the parents and relatives are sure-fire ticket sales. The professional dancers of course, were a bigger concern since injuries over the course of two or three dozen performances – sometimes two a day – could sideline up to a fifth of the company, or at minimum make them unable to do more than basic corps de ballet work. No lifts, no fish dives, no endless pirouettes. So children – lots of them – were always the order of the day.

It’s the shortest of all the Tchaikovsky ballets

If it wasn’t for the intermission, you would likely be in and out of the Nutcracker in 90 minutes or so, especially back when the fast-tempo Arthur Fiedler was conducting the pit orchestra. These days you are lucky to get live music, it is often canned, and the Washington Ballet is the latest company to skimp on this essential component of the Nutcracker experience. But musicians aren’t cheap, they often make more than the dancers, and so the ticket prices with live orchestra are expensive. If you are like me and prefer a fresh cooked meal from scratch over one that is processed in a factory and microwaved, you know the difference a real orchestra can make to the live performance experience. Still it is worth seeking out tickets at special prices to help your budget.

Local Nutcrackers, National Recognition

As you look over the long list of American Nutcrackers and think about voting for one either out of local pride or wide ranging travels, remember too that this particular list has links to the savings that make it possible for whole families to attend. So go ahead, Check the Pricing Details (Click Me) and think about how much fun a Nutcracker outing would be for everyone this month.

Cities Included in this Nutcracker Promotion:

•  Atlanta
•  Boston
•  Chicago
•  Cincinnati
•  Dallas
•  Inland Empire
•  Los Angeles
•  Milwaukee
•  Minneapolis-St. Paul
•  National
•  New York
•  Oakland / East Bay
•  Orange County
•  Phoenix
•  Portland
•  Providence
•  Richmond
•  San Antonio
•  San Diego
•  San Francisco
•  San Jose
•  Seattle
•  Tampa
•  Washington, D.C.

For details on ticket offers on each of these cities, (Click Me)

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