‘‘Twas the Night Before’ gives the holiday season a jolt
Productions by Cirque du Soleil have been around long enough now where most people have an opinion about them — regardless of whether they’ve actually seen a whole one. If you’re a neutral observer, however, you’re likely to catch a moment during the performance that seems to encapsulate the Cirque du Soleil experience.
That moment occurred several times Friday evening at Miller High Life Theatre, where the entertainment company brought the touring production of its first holiday show, ‘Twas the Night Before…
From my particular vantage point, it involved the grade-schooler sitting next to me, the octogenarian behind me and the teenaged component of the family in front of me. As a particular solo act or set of performers commanded the stage, I’d hear something along the lines of a gasp or a “whoa” or a “look at that” from all three parties. Often, it was just a slack-jawed expression that said either “I didn’t know a person could do that” or “Can you believe a person would even attempt that?”
The feats that fueled those responses Friday evening built on each other in a way that someone might compose a piece of music. There’s a casual introduction, an element to get your attention, a ramping up you barely notice, a satisfying crescendo and finally a resolution that brings everything in for a landing.
The story also follows that path — for the most part. It’s based on Clement Clarke Moore’s A Visit from St. Nicholas, the classic poem literally every human on the planet calls ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. But I’d say the show hangs on that framework rather loosely. Not that it matters.
Yes, Santa’s involved. There are reindeer. Really, it’s about a girl aging out of Christmas and her father’s inability to cope. As it unfolds, it doesn’t so much tug at the heartstrings as pluck them absent-mindedly. It’s also possible my heart is two sizes too small. Regardless, the narrative is an excuse for the athleticism unfolding in front of you and the multi-sensory experience demanding (and mostly earning) your attention.
There’s an acrobatic sleepover. St. Nick makes his first appearance juggling pins and clocking some serious RPMs in the process. Aerial performers whip themselves across the stage via straps, a hotel luggage cart and — in one particular migraine-inducing watch — their own hair. Diabolo jugglers fling illuminated objects over the crowd and, for two unsuspecting attendees pulled up on stage, around them.
Add a soundtrack that reimagines holiday standards in a way that makes them palatable and occasionally exciting, and you have something that’s at times chaotic and emotional and elegant and just plain fun.
By the time you get to the acro-bike (acrobatics via bicycle) performance that serves as the emotional resolution to the story and heard several dozen “whoas” from the grade-schoolers and the 80-year-olds and the teenagers around you, it’s not hard to imagine at least a slight smile creeping across the face of even the Grinchiest audience member.
Does ‘Twas the Night Before… reinvent holiday entertainment? Of course not. But for those who would rather shelve The Nutcracker or scare up something other than Scrooge, it does reinvigorate it.
‘Twas the Night Before… runs through this Sunday, Nov. 26, at the Miller High Life Theatre. For showtimes and more information, visit the Pabst Theater Group website.