Celebrating 30 years of Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s Nutcracker

Nut And Mk Battle Lights 1122
The Nutcracker battles Jeremiah Isley’s the Mouse King.

By Bill Yurgen

For those of us fortunate enough to have enjoyed a glittering, well-produced Christmas pageant as a child, we are blessed with a rush of warm memories when we recall that special day. Our time spent with parents and relatives who took an afternoon during the year’s busiest season to create a special lifelong memory becomes more meaningful with each precious, passing year.

Those memories surely include a kaleidoscope of sparkling colors in glitter, sequins, and extravagant costume fabrics, and a magical story line accompanied by festive holiday music. If you are young enough, the highlight is the opportunity to meet Santa and maybe… just maybe…bring home an early Christmas present as a denouement to the day’s adventure. Usually, such affairs are held in grand public facilities where when entering and exiting you feel the electricity of other kids’ excitement and, of course, that very “grown-up” feeling that you have arrived one step closer to adulthood.

Please allow me to speak for the inner child in us all by saying, “Thank you, Mom and Dad, thank you Grandma and Grandpa, thank you aunt and uncle, and thank you to every one of the performers and supporters for making an unforgettable memory of what was quite possibly our best day in any childhood holiday season.”

For thousands of us anywhere near Akron, Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s (BTO’s) Nutcracker has become our holiday tradition providing “best-day-of-the-season” memories with its grand spectacle.

BTO’s 30th Nutcracker Milestone
I went to my first performance of the Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s Nutcracker ballet to write a story on this magnificent tradition in nearby Akron, Ohio. It was 2007.

A Mother Ginger like no other.

What an experience that first visit was. The glamourous costumes. The pure athleticism and grace exhibited in every scene. The wonderfully handcrafted sets that accompany every Nutcracker performance. It’s all so bright and colorful that while the term “magical’ is close to being a cliché, when referring to BTO’s production of Nutcracker it is so appropriate. And then there’s the musical score by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, first performed just over 130 years ago, echoing throughout the magnificent Akron Civic Theatre. The score has proven timeless, having been integrated in everything from Disney’s Fantasia to Duke Ellington’s fusion-style version. It’s at once haunting and intoxicating.

Christine & Kelly Meneer – 30 Year Milestone
No discussion of Ballet Theatre of Ohio (BTO) is complete without mention of Christine Meneer who founded the organization 30 years ago. As a former professional dancer—trained by local ballet genius Heinz Poll, who was the choreographer and founder of the Ohio Ballet—Christine cut her teeth learning from one of the very best. Today, as she works tirelessly as choreographer and costume designer for BTO, she brings forth a sense of excellence and pride in all of BTO’s performers. Chris now serves as Executive Director, having passed the baton of Artistic Director to her daughter Kelly Meneer last year. As you admire the incredible costume designs worthy of a Broadway performance and the expert choreography that speaks emotion and humor to the audiences’ delight, say thank you to Chris and the performers for their dedication in making every performance the best it can be.

Kelly Meneer began her career with BTO as a young child. She went on to achieve a BFA from Kent State University. Afterward she spent 8 years in New York and has performed in Broadway classics like West Side Story, A Chorus Line, 42nd Street, Chicago and Cabaret. Somehow, she found time to return home to help in many of BTO’s full-length productions. Kelly returned to her beloved Ohio to join fully in the family endeavor. Her ascent to the position of BTO’s Artistic Director has been natural and well received.

A Special Thanks
Ballet Theatre of Ohio is very thankful to so many who helped them to be successful for 30 years—Peg’s Foundation, BTO’s Premiere Sponsor; a legion of volunteer parents; dancers and staff who work tirelessly to make it happen; donors who support the ballet; and the Akron community members who bring their families to see Akron’s number one holiday show—Nutcracker.

The Isley Brothers - Jeremiah & Joshua Celebrate 30 years
“Even after 30 years of being a part of Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s (BTO’s) production of Nutcracker, I’m still overwhelmed,” says Joshua Isley, who will have played the role of Drosselmyer for 30 years this season. “I began dancing the role of Drosselmyer when I was 18. Now that I’m 48, I’ve seen the children who danced in our earlier productions bring their own children to enjoy the magic we still create here at the Akron Civic Theatre every year. I imagine I’ll be seeing some grandchildren of the original dance company before too many years.”

Joshua Isley reprises the beloved role of Drosselmyer this season.

Jeremiah Isley, who plays the Mouse King, echoes his brother Joshua: “I find it amazing that a lot of the students dancing today are children of former students. There’s a lot expected of these kids. They must stay focused through seven difficult performances each season, plus many will be performing an additional time this year in our Nutty Nutcracker show.”

The Nutty Nutcracker
The Nutty Nutcracker is performed only once every five years, and this is one of those years. On Friday, December 2, 2022, at 7 p.m., this spoof of Nutcracker, which has been so well received, will be performed one night only. Every Nutty Nutcracker is different and is choreographed by quite the creative team—Chris Meneer and Kelly Meneer, Kim Sulek and the Isley Brothers. If you enjoy slapstick humor, you will be so happy that you decided to begin your holidays with a good old-fashioned belly laugh. Expect to have fun.

Finally – The Akron Civic Theatre Celebrates 30 Years of BTO’s Nutcracker
That’s 30 years of its number one, best-selling show. BTO has played a key role in revitalizing downtown Akron, bringing in almost 300,000 people to the “Jewel on Main Street” over the past 30 years. The Akron Civic Theatre is the perfect setting for all BTO productions. Today, parking is much more accessible, and the theatre interior including the ticketing and grand staircase are completely reworked and restored to ensure your special day is even more special.

Editor’s note: Thirty years is an incredible run by any measure. For a pre-professional dance troupe to perform at a professional venue like the Akron Civic Theatre as a best seller is extraordinary. The longest running show on Broadway is The Phantom of the Opera at 35 years, concluding February 18, 2023, and next-longest running show is Chicago at 26 years. Could BTO’s Nutcracker outrun The Phantom? I’ll put my money on the BTO team as they are the most dedicated professionals I know.

Ballet Theatre of Ohio will be performing its 30th anniversary Nutcracker at the Akron Civic Theatre, 182 S. Main St., in Akron, Saturday, November 26, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Sunday, November 27, at 2 p.m.; Saturday, December 3, at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m.; and the final performance will be Sunday December 4 at 2 p.m.

The one-show-only performance of The Nutty Nutcracker will be Friday, December 2, at 7 p.m.

To order tickets, contact the Akron Civic Theatre Box Office at 330-253-2488 or purchase online at AkronCivic.com or Ticketmaster.com.