The Houston Ballet has been doing the same production of The Nutcracker since it moved into the Wortham Theater Center in 1986. This year they're giving 36 performances of that production. Let's see, 12 years times 36 shows per year is 432 performances, not only of the same story, but of the exact same series of grand jetes, pirouettes and arabesques. Obviously, no performer has danced in all 400-something performances, but one still suspects that Nutcracker veterans might get a little bored.

"I hope not," says Houston Ballet Artistic Director Ben Stevenson. Nevertheless, in 1993 Stevenson let the Nutcracker's cast help create a stunt-filled satire of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet. Closing-night performances had been getting a little crazier each year, with an extra heaping of snow here and a more raucous party scene there. "I could say, 'No, that's very unprofessional. You can't go on with a red nose,' " said Stevenson. Instead, he decided to go with the Houston Ballet's high jinks, and the Saturday Night Live-style "Nutty" Nutcracker was born.

They had a hard time selling the nutty version that first year, but in the end Carlos Acosta's break dance solo brought down the house. Since then, the one-night-only show has become one of HB's hottest tickets and a major production in its own right, each year featuring different characters such as Marvin Zindler, Kerri Strug, Madonna, Queen Elizabeth II and Dracula. Michael Jackson has moonwalked across the show's icy set, and Richard Simmons has led an aerobicized version of the "Waltz of the Flowers." Last year, long-limbed Lauren Anderson (dressed as Tina Turner) commanded the first-act party scene with her lip-synch of "Proud Mary," and the corps de ballet danced -- forgive them -- the macarena.

The quintessential showman, Stevenson declined to comment on this year's "Nutty" Nutcracker except to say that he likes to play on "topical things" and that retired prima ballerina Janie Parker will return for a special guest appearance. The press release is slightly more generous, offering "rumors" that John Glenn, Barbra Streisand and Leonardo DiCaprio might pop up -- along with Hillary, Bill and Monica.

Leave the kids at home.

-- Lauren Kern

The "Nutty" Nutcracker plays Sunday, December 27, at 7:30 p.m. Brown Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas. Call 227-ARTS for tickets. $11-$61.


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