Nutcracker Key West rooster scene
  • One of "Nutcracker Key West's" most engaging dance sequences is a colorful battle between the Conch Nutcracker and the Rooster King. (Photo courtesy of "Nutcracker Key West")


  • By: Carol Shaughnessy
  • December 5, 2018

Audiences can discover the seafaring heritage and vibrant coral reef environment of the Florida Keys, blended with a sizeable helping of heartfelt holiday spirit, during performances of the lovely and unforgettable “Nutcracker Key West.”

"Nutcracker Key West" children dancing

“Nutcracker Key West” features professional dancers, talented local kids and adults, and exquisite museum-quality costumes designed by Joyce Stahl, who conceived and created the entire production. (All photos courtesy of “Nutcracker Key West”)

The unique subtropical version of the classic “Nutcracker” ballet is being performed Dec. 7-16 — flavored with characters and sets that celebrate Key West’s colorful history, culture, traditions, and even the free-roaming local chickens and roosters that have become unofficial island mascots.

“Nutcracker Key West” stars 15 professional dancers from around the world, plus 60 local children and adults. Together they bring the ballet’s timeless story to life onstage at the Tennessee Williams Theatre (located at 5901 College Road on the campus of Florida Keys Community College).

The Key West version of the holiday favorite was conceived and created by local resident Joyce Stahl, herself a classically trained dancer who performed “The Nutcracker” and other ballets with New Jersey’s American Repertory Ballet for 38 years.

First performed in 2005, her “Nutcracker Key West” is now produced every two years to delight visiting and resident Florida Keys audiences. And delight them it does.

Joyce’s production transforms the story of a young girl’s visit to the land of the Sugarplum Fairy into an engaging island fantasy. Characters include dancing snowy egrets, phosphorescent sea anemones, fighting fish and a nutcracker whose headdress features a conch shell, the symbol of the Florida Keys (which is also known as the Conch Republic).

“It’s exactly the same story,” Joyce advised. “There’s still a Sugarplum Fairy, only she’s called the Sea Star Fairy.”

Nutcracker Key West underwater scene dancers

In a vivid underwater sequence, dancers portray jewels from a Spanish galleon shipwrecked off Key West in 1622.

The tale of young Clara’s holiday dream unfolds at a stylized Christmas party in 1864 Key West. Subsequently, standout dance sequences include a dream battle where toy sailors protect Clara from the Rooster King, recalling Key West’s quirky “gypsy chicken” population.

A scene set on the Keys’ living coral reef features young children costumed as tumbling pink shrimp in King Neptune’s court, colorful angelfish and a school of sparkling red snapper.

The storyline also includes imagery drawn from the history of the Spanish galleon Nuestra Señora de Atocha, shipwrecked off Key West in 1622 while carrying a cargo of treasure from the Americas home to Spain.

One of the most breathtaking sequences features dancers in flowing primary-colored costumes portraying the “jewels” of the Atocha — with the galleon humorously renamed “Atoeshu” for the production.

A holiday tradition that Keys residents share with visitors, “Nutcracker Key West” incorporates elaborate sets and dazzling museum-quality costumes designed by Joyce herself.

Nutcracker Key West sailboat scene

Blending the classic “Nutcracker” story with quintessential Keys elements, “Nutcracker Key West” is a don’t-miss holiday treat.

With its cast blending amateur and professional actors and dancers, children and adults, and local and visiting talents, the production itself is as distinctive as its transformation of the original ballet into a celebration of the Florida Keys.

Only nine performances of the gorgeous and lovingly crafted “Nutcracker Key West” are scheduled (including four matinees), and tickets are expected to go fast.

Prices range from $20.63 per person for the most cost-effective seats at the preview show to $45 per person for premium seating at most evening performances.

Tickets can be purchased here — and if you’re headed for the Florida Keys in December, buy them quickly so you don’t miss this island-flavored holiday gem.

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