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Your weekend (and New Year’s Eve) arts forecast

Bill DeYoung



Moscow Ballet's Great Russian Nutcracker returns to the Mahaffey this week. Photo provided.

The majority of our local performing arts venues traditionally extend their Christmas etc. breaks through the first days of the new year. Still, for those of us who have family in town, looking for something exciting to do that doesn’t involve going to the movies or watching TV, there are options.

On the road every holiday season since 1993, Moscow Ballet’s Great Russian Nutcracker is literally all over the place, as there are two separate and distinct companies touring American cities at the same time. It’s a big ol’ “bus and truck” show, dropping three dozen dancers into each town, usually for several consecutive days. The dancers are indeed Russian, and in each venue they’re augmented by local ballet students for Nutcracker group scenes.

The ginormous show checks in to St. Petersburg’s Mahaffey Theater every December, and you can visit with Clara, the Mouse King and the rest of the gang Thursday (Dec. 26) at 7 p.m., and Friday (Dec. 27) at 3 and 7 p.m. The Mahaffey, which has its own in-house kitchen, offers cozy pre-performance meals for those who crave the whole family holiday experience. They’re only sold for the evening shows, not the matinee.

Of all the Nutcrackers around, why this one? Let’s start with the fact that the principal dancers are all professionals, and add in the beautiful, handmade costumes, the brilliant backdrops and elaborate, giant puppets from traditions around the world, including a flying firebird, a 12-foot-tall dancing unicorn and a peacock with an eight-foot tail.

Set this visual dazzle on a stage in front of Tchaikovsky’s unforgettable score – the group doesn’t travel with a live orchestra, unfortunately – and this is a Nutcracker that demands your attention.

For tickets and more information, click here.

Good night Vienna

New Year’s Eve (that’ll be Tuesday) finds the return of the touring Salute to Vienna show to Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater. There’s a real, live orchestra for this one – the Strauss Symphony of America. It’s re-creation of a Viennese tradition, the new year-welcoming Neujahrskonzerta, with singers, ballroom dancers and ballet. Direct from the company’s own marketing description: “The performance is rich with selections from beloved operettas, elegant dances, lively overtures and the beautiful Blue Danube Waltz.”

For tickets and more information, click here.

NYE downtown

Let us not forget First Night St. Petersburg, an evening-long series of musical performances – and more – all over downtown, a local tradition since 1993. It takes place on New Year’s Eve, which is technically Last Night, when you think about it, but let’s not quibble.

Here’s how it works: By purchasing a First Night Button (here) you’re admitted to dozens of performances, in venues ranging a mainstage in North Straub Park to First United Methodist Church, the St. Petersburg Museum of History, Déjà vu Café and the gigantic, gorgeous Cathedral of St. Peter.

Music runs the gamut from reggae and rock ‘n’ roll to chamber strings and opera. There’s dance, puppets, stuff for kids, fireworks at 8 p.m., and an all-night scavenger hunt.

First Night’s cluttered website is nearly impossible to navigate; I finally found the simple schedule, and it’s here. You’re welcome.

Hot Pockets for New Year’s

Jim Gaffigan

At the Yuengling Center in Tampa (the venue many of us remember as the University of South Florida Sun Dome), comedian Jim Gaffigan is doing a New Year’s Eve show. One of the most popular and in-demand standups in the country, Gaffigan could have his pick of big-money New Year’s Eve bookings in major cities.

Two years ago, Gaffigan played Amalie Arena on the Big Night. In an interview with Yours Truly (for another area publication), he explained that he was in Florida by design, so that he could take his wife and five kids (they’re a big, loving, Catholic family) to Disney World over the holidays.

Tickets for the Yuengling performance are here.

And now, this

The touring production of the Disney musical Aladdin is in residence at the Straz Center in Tampa this weekend (it’ll be there through Jan. 4); tickets are here.

New Year’s Eve Weekend Jam at the Yuengling Center features Anthony Hamilton, Joe, K. Michelle, Ja Rule, Avant and others. The R&B/hip hop concert takes place Friday (Dec. 27); tickets are here.

Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Jorma Kaukonen (guitar) and Jack Casady (bass) are celebrating 50 years together as Hot Tuna; the founding members of Jefferson Airplane are playing an acoustic show Saturday (Dec. 28) at Ruth Eckerd Hall, with John McEuen opening. Watch for an interview with Casady Friday in the Catalyst.

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