by Shelley A. Sackett
‘Twas the Night Before…, Cirque de Soleil’s first Christmas show, delivered a sunny holiday respite from the blinding rain last Wednesday night. But the 85-minute intermission-less show was more than just shelter from the storm — it was a family-friendly retelling of the familiar Christmas classic with all the thrill, glitz, and mind-boggling contortions that have become Cirque de Soleil trademarks.
The lighting, set design and costumes were nothing to sneeze at, either.
Inspired by Clement Clarke Moore‘s poem, “A Visit From St. Nicolas,” the updated Cirque version tells the story of teenaged Isabella (Alicia Beaudoin) and her journey from world weary self-absorbed indifference to renewed wide-eyed reverence and appreciation for the magic that is the Christmas spirit.
The show opens on Christmas Eve, and Isabella and her father (Benjamin Thomas Courtney) are set to read “A Visit from St. Nicholas,” as they do every year. Only this year, Isabella feels she is too cool for such an old fashioned and boring tradition. She is simply too trendy for her father and his outdated ways.
Her dad is frustrated that his once close relationship with his daughter has been disrupted by smart phones and social media. He hopes reading the poem together will rekindle Isabella’s passion for Christmas. He tries everything, but not even the gift of a bow-adorned bicycle can snap her out of her Scrooge-like mood.
Suddenly, like magic, the poem comes to life. A snowstorm comes out of nowhere, , separating Isabella and her father and sending them on a fantastic journey full of — you guessed it — circus performers.
And this is where the show really takes off.
Isabella wanders through this wonderland, and we walk in her shadow through an enchanted wonderland of tinsel arches (12,200 linear feet of garland) and piles of glistening snow (5,000 cubic feet, or five large dump trucks’ worth). Each change of hue in the lighting creates a new mood and dream-like charm, signaling a new act that is inspired by separate lines from the poem.
In the Land of the Poem, Isabella encounters the Straps Duo, an aerial act performed 20 feet in the air. Jolly the Juggler is a colorful and comedic character who befriends her and becomes her guide. The Acrobatic Table Act features naughty children who make a ruckus while waiting for Santa to arrive. Their charming striped pajama costumes with animal ear hoodies evoke children’s cake toppers come to life.
There is the saucy and spoiled starlet, Ava, who performs remarkable feats on a gilded luggage rack in a sequined outfit that makes her look like the gift she thinks she is. Two disco-clad green-haired roller skaters reach speeds up to 30 mph on a platform just six feet in diameter. Most remarkably, an artist is suspended by her hair, performing 100 turns at a top speed of seven turns per second. Clad in a silver sequined costume and palming globe lights, she is breathtaking, part spritely ballerina, part sexy Tinkerbelle.
There is a snowball fight that overflows into the audience, disco dancers, performers in the aisles and other tricks guaranteed to thrill the youngsters and keep them engaged. In short, it is good old-fashioned family entertainment with something for everyone.
Eventually, Isabella and her father reunite, and together they read aloud the familiar lines that introduce Santa’s reindeer — and the Cirque Hoop Divers, acrobats dressed in charming and effective gold lamé. They look like globs of human mercury as they sail through hoops as high as 10 feet and as small in diameter as 18 inches.
Although the recorded soundtrack is an energetic mixture of original and traditional Christmas, it is way too loud to enjoy. (I wish I had had earplugs. It was that loud). The costumes are, as always, superb and the makeup and hair departments bring life to the show’s colorful characters.
There would be no Cirque de Soleil without the remarkable cadre of Cirque performers who exact the super-human from their human bodies, and ‘Twas is no exception. “How do they do that?” my friend and I kept asking each other, knowing full well that for our earth bound selves, these questions were merely rhetorical.
‘Twas the Night Before…’ – Conceived and Directed by James Hadley. Production by Cirque de Soleil at Boch Center Wang Theatre, 270 Tremont St., Boston through December 11.For more info and tickets, go to: https://www.cirquedusoleil.com/twas-the-night-before