November 25 – December 11th, Wednesdays Through Sundays, various times
Boch Center – Wang Theatre
270 Tremont St
Boston, MA 02116
Review by Craig Idlebrook
BOSTON — If you are an aspiring fiction writer in whatever genre and have a good idea for a Christmas-themed show, I suggest you pursue it. If our 365-day lust for Hallmark Christmas movies is any indication, there is always a need for more content, and, frankly, most of the ideas that are out there are mediocre at best.
Of course, as an honest critic, I should always take my own idiosyncrasies into account, and how it might differ from the viewpoint of others. I like a low-key Christmas season, and many people don’t, and this difference can color our perspectives on yuletide spectacle.
It is with this in mind that I can share two differing viewpoints on Cirque du Soleil‘s first-ever Christmas show, ‘Twas The Night Before… For the TL:DR version of this review, allow me to sum up – I thought the show was cloying and unnecessary, but amazing nonetheless thanks to the superhuman physical efforts and deep charisma of the cast. My seven-year-old son, an inspiring gymnast and firmly in the sweet spot of the age for Christmas magic, was beside himself with joy with almost every moment of acrobatics on stage.
The first difficulty this show presents to fully enjoy the spectacular action on stage is that it can’t decide if it wants to present an actual story or a circus. In this, it is in good company, as even Tchaikovsky ’s The Nutcracker basically runs out of plot shortly after Clara throws her nighttime slipper at King Rat at the end of the first act.
There is a lot of overlap between ‘Twas and The Nutcracker, except that the tween in question, Isabella, has lost the Christmas spirit thanks to her obsession with her iPad and social media. Her dad tries to give her a bike, but it doesn’t go as well as he had hoped.
Luckily, the two are spirited off to some kind of Christmas land, where a series of amazing people do amazing things with their bodies in a holiday-themed way. Spoiler alert: Eventually, Isabella gets into the Christmas spirit and does amazing things on her now-more-Christmasy bike, the kind of things that would make a non-Cirque du Solei dad want to throw up with fear.
Any good Christmas redemption story can tug at the heartstrings of an audience if told with simplicity and heart, and I am biased toward a dad-and-child bonding story. However, the music provided for the amazing feats adds an unnecessary layer of distance to the beating heart of the action onstage. T
o tie the action of the show to Christmas, a narrator offers up snatches of the poem “A Visit from Saint Nicolas” by Clement Clarke Moore over music like Delta airlines might use for its trying-to-inspire-you-to-pay-attention seat belt video. It is all very perfect and slick, and distracts from the emotion of the story.
All this would make the show a complete loss was it not for the joyful efforts of the incredible cast of acrobats and dancers on stage. Unless you have lived under a rock, you know that the Cirque du Soleil actors perform a series of incredible feats with their bodies, all while making it look like they are having a good time.
This show certainly matches the institution’s standards, with mesmerizing acts done high above the stage, on tiny platforms, and within hula hoops. The most successful of these acts for this show were geared toward clowning, including a winsome troop of snowflakes/elves who provide comic relief throughout the proceedings and a troop of acrobatic reindeer.
And these feats of strength, grace, and agility were more than enough to keep my son enraptured throughout most of the show. His reaction to the action on stage was actually as entertaining at times for the adults in our row as the show itself. However, even he had moments where he leaned over and loudly asked what was going on with the storyline. Whether this shows he is getting ready to take selfies and ignore my Christmas presents or that there are limits to spectacle, only time will tell.