What do James Bond and the title character of "The Nutcracker" have in common -- other than swaggering good looks and strong jaw lines, that is?
Both have featured roles in Shea's Performing Arts Center this weekend: The recorded voice narrating the holiday ballet belongs to none other than Roger Moore, one of moviedom's earliest 007s.
That's just one surprise of BalletMet's "Nutcracker," returning to Shea's for a second year. With a host of special effects that go beyond the expected, this is a production that deserves to be called magical.
The first-act's illusions aren't limited to a Christmas tree that triples in size. They include a levitating champagne glass, a grandfather clock that sprouts wings and gifts that seem to jump out of a sack.
And, no, the musicians in the pit aren't a mirage -- though with taped musical accompaniment the norm for most classical companies, you couldn't be faulted for thinking so. Under the baton of resident conductor Robert Franz, the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra played Tchaikovsky's most recognizable ballet score with clarity and precision.
As with any storybook ballet, there are more adaptations of "The Nutcracker" than there are ornaments on Clara's tree. BalletMet's version, choreographed by Gerard Charles with more than a nod to Marius Petispa and Lev Ivanov, follows tradition but isn't wedded to it.
Most of its departures from form take place in the second act, where Clara (Jamie Dee) and the Nutcracker Prince (David Tlaiye) dance several variations historically assigned to inhabitants of the Kingdom of Sweets. Given the pair's fluid footwork and youthful charm, it's a laudable substitution. Tlaiye leads the Trepak dance, arguably the ballet's most popular variation, with jaunty self-confidence. For her part, Dee brings a staccato sensibility to the Spanish segment.
Among the other second-act standouts at Saturday's matinee was Christian Broomhall, who matched his lofty leaps with secure turns, all executed with a gleaming saber in hand. No doubt, the hundreds of children in attendance were less impressed with Broomhall's effortless pyrotechnics than his oversized prey during the Chinese variation: a glittering dragon mobilized by five dancers concealed under its spine.
But then, everyone appreciates "The Nutcracker" for different reasons. The little girl who starts to wilt during the Waltz of the Flowers will perk up when Mother Ginger saunters onstage sporting that plus-sized skirt. Saturday, Dmitre Suslov assumed the gender-bending role with the theatricality of a vaudevillian. At the same time, he allowed himself to be outshone by the dozen nimble dance students who pranced around him.
The Sugarplum Fairy and her Cavalier could take a few lessons from those smiling sprites. Although the technical aplomb of Emily Ramirez and Jimmy Orrante was beyond dispute, the couple lacked dimension. The crescendo of their pas de deux was all about fine craftsmanship to the exclusion of bravura.
If you survived the tumult of Black Friday, you owe it to yourself to take in the charms of a decidedly more relaxing holiday ritual.
Featuring the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and BalletMet on Saturday in Shea's Performing Arts Center. Another performance at 2 p.m. today. For more information, visit www.sheas.org.