When I was invited to opening night of The Nutcracker in Seattle at the Pacific Northwest Ballet, I felt humbled and honored. It’s the ultimate holiday theatrical production in Seattle and it’s a big deal.
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While I immediately wanted to say yes to bringing our whole family to experience the festivities, I had to take a moment and really think about it.
My boys are almost 5 years old and 2 years old. They love the productions at Seattle Children’s Theatre and we go see movies in theaters frequently.
But, they are chatty kids and I wasn’t sure they could keep quiet the whole time.
Plus, I was a bit nervous about what they would think of the story of The Nutcracker. And it’s all based on my own experience seeing it as a kid.
So, after careful consideration, I decided to make this a date night with my husband/scouting mission to figure out just how kid-friendly The Nutcracker in Seattle really is.
This post will give tips and tricks for parents who want to bring their kids to the Nutcracker in Seattle.
My Memories of The Nutcracker in Seattle
Like many of us Seattle kids, we grew up with the Maurice Sendak version of The Nutcracker. Actually, I didn’t know any others existed when I was younger.
I remember going to the Pacific Northwest Ballet in 3rd grade on a school field trip. As a dancer myself, I was so excited to see my first real ballet!
However, the only core memory I have from that experience is being confused and bored during the Second Act. I wasn’t sure what was going on and none of it made sense to me as a kid.
Plus, there were so many mice and it creeped me out!
This is why I never felt compelled to come back and I didn’t understand why people returned year after year as a holiday tradition.
But in 2015, Pacific Northwest Ballet debuted a new version of The Nutcracker in Seattle featuring choreography by George Balanchine and set design by Ian Falconer.
There was a lot of buzz about this change and attendees have a lot of opinions about which one was better.
So, I figured I needed to see this, you know, for research!
NEW VERSION VS. OLD ONE
As I watched the still-newish Balanchine version, I kept thinking how almost everything felt different. The mood felt lighter!
I wondered why I was so scared as a child of the Mouse King and his army. And I couldn’t figure out why I was so bored as a kid because this version is very engaging.
That’s when my husband asked if the story changed between this one and the Maurice Sendak version. That hadn’t occurred to me, so I immediately consulted the Internet!
While I was researching, I came across a fascinating post by Zach Barr Reviews comparing this new Balanchine version to the old Sendak one.
To sum it up, YES, the Sendak version is much darker and twisted than this one.
And despite both sets being created by children’s illustrators, Ian Falconer (author/illustrator of the Olivia series) really plays up the happy, whimsical feeling of Christmas and all the festivities.
Before The Nutcracker in Seattle with Kids
I’m all about maximizing family experiences. For The Nutcracker, a little prep work can go a long way to really making the most of this family holiday event.
Here’s what I suggest:
READ THE BOOK
One of the best ways to fully enjoy The Nutcracker is to make sure everyone knows the story. Since it’s a ballet, there isn’t any dialogue and it really helps to have a basic understanding of the story.
I’d suggest this book because it’s the George Balanchine version and has a page of fun facts specific to his production.
And if you don’t get a chance to read the book, read the story synopsis in the program. My husband didn’t know the story and if he hadn’t read the synopsis, he would have been really confused.
ALSO READ OLIVIA!
The PNB set is designed by Ian Falconer, creator of the Olivia book series. Reading the books will help make the set feel familiar and interesting to kids.
And Olivia herself makes a cameo in a painted balcony set to the left of the stage!
These touches makes the whole ballet experience more kid-friendly, in my opinion.
PLAY THE MUSIC
While you’re getting dressed in the morning, doing pick-up/drop off, or while the kids are playing at home, play music from The Nutcracker.
It’s an easy way to get kids familiar with the music (plus, you’ll get bonus points for enriching them with classical music!)
We started doing this and I’m impressed that my 4 year old was already familiar with most of the music thanks to all the TV he watches 🙂
DRESS UP A BIT
Since this is PNB’s big holiday show, you’ll see that most families are dressed up in their holiday outfits.
I think it makes the whole experience a bit more special.
I saw a ton of Christmas plaid, poofy dresses, and bow ties. Wear what you’d wear for Santa photos.
SEATTLE CENTER WINTERFEST
If you have time, head to Seattle Center early so you can check out their annual Winterfest event.
They have ice skating, a winter train and village display (it’s super cool!) and various student and artistic performances throughout the season.
Oh and it’s FREE!
When You Arrive at McCaw Hall
The holiday spirit is alive and well the moment you step into McCaw Hall! You’ll feel like you are at a royal Christmas party!
PHOTO OPS IN LOBBY
Out of all the photo ops I’ve seen at local events, Pacific Northwest Ballet blew me away!
So, there’s the big Christmas tree where lots of families take their annual Christmas photo.
But, there are a ton of photo op sets that are beautifully painted, are sturdy enough to hold kids and adults, and are so fun for holiday pictures!
There were several more photo scenes set up, too! These are another reason I’d suggest having your family dress up a bit!
Insider tip: The lobby opens 2 hours prior to the show and you don’t need tickets to walk through the lobby if you want to take a few quick pics!
CHECK OUT THE GIFT SHOP
You know I’m a sucker for a good gift shop, especially if it support a nonprofit.
The PNB gift shop is beautiful! There’s tons of Nutcracker-themed ornaments and holiday decor.
There’s also cute dress up clothes, dolls, and every ballet-related gift idea you could think of!
GET YOUR WINE TO GO
Their concession areas offer cups with lids so you can bring your drink into the theatre.
This is so perfect for families with young kids. My boys are excitable and I’ve had lots of drinks accidentally spilled on me.
What a great way to protect yourself, even in the lobby!
My husband and I perused the concession area and they had a few delicious treats that looked amazing!
If you are worried about giving your kids sugar before the show, you can bribe them with a treat at intermission.
The cool thing is you can actually pre-order treats for your kids and avoid waiting in line during intermission!
GRAB A SEAT CUSHION
If you don’t want your child to insist on sitting in your lap to see better, get a complimentary seat cushion before you sit down.
CRY ROOM AVAILABLE
Just in case your toddler or preschooler starts making noise when the rest of the audience is silent, don’t freak out!
There is a cry room available or you can just bring them into the lobby until they settle down. There are monitors so you can still see the show.
What We Thought About The Nutcracker in Seattle:
Part of why this version of The Nutcracker at Pacific Northwest Ballet felt so modern and updated is that they used video to anchor the story.
I completely felt transported in time to a huge estate in a snowy town. There was some nostalgia about getting dressed up to visit relatives for Christmas Eve and it just felt a bit magical!
I also thought that was a smart addition to keep the kids engaged, too! It was easy to see that the story takes place a long time ago.
So, my husband and I experienced The Nutcracker in very different ways.
MY HUSBAND’S TAKE ON THE NUTCRACKER IN SEATTLE
Having never read the story or seen the ballet, he read through the program and was still a bit confused about the story.
He comes from a musical background and the music was his focal point and the dancing was secondary. It bother him a bit that the dancing didn’t always line up with the music.
Also, as a Chinese guy, he was mildly annoyed that the “Chinese” dancers had the shortest number on stage.
But mostly, he was surprised how much of the music he recognized and was able to hum along to in his head!
And it made him curious enough to re-read the synopsis in the program and to look up the rest of the story later.
MY IMPRESSION OF THE NUTCRACKER IN SEATTLE
My background is in dance and so it’s not surprising that I was predominantly glued to the dancing and the music just kind of accompanied it.
I have to start off by saying just how impressive these kids are! I mean, they do a TON of dancing in Act I and you can tell how hard they train for this opportunity.
And so much of the show is kid-focused. Most of the characters aren’t intimidatingly large compared to the kids.
I’m still not a fan of the Mouse King (he has 7 heads!) but the costumes are AH-MA-ZING!
I loved the big bowed dresses in the First Act. And I was swooning over the brightly colored costumes in the Second Act!
And there were quite a few “ooh” moments for me.
The Sugar Plum Fairy (played by Pacific Northwest Ballet principal dancer Leta Biasucci) gets pulled while she’s up on her toes and it looks like she’s ice skating!
But, I think I really enjoyed the “cultural” dances from around the world the most! It’s definitely the ballet version, but I thought they seemed exactly like what little Clara would have dreamed about when thinking about exploring the world!
Where to Find Discounted Tickets for The Nutcracker in Seattle
Because I enjoyed the production so much, I really want people to try to go! That’s why I looked for discount Nutcracker in Seattle tickets!
- Up to 40% off select Nutcracker performances here. Expires Dec 5 at 11:59pm PST.
- Use discount code NUTSOCIAL for 15% off all Nutcracker performances at PNB.
More Holiday Festivities in the Pacific North West:
3 Things to Do in Vancouver BC during the Holidays
Holiday Magic: Christmas in Seattle
The Velveteen Rabbit at Seattle Children’s Theatre
5 Seattle Christmas Activities to Add to Your Family Winter Traditions
THE POLAR EXPRESS at Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum