Illusionist Drew Thomas puts tricks up Atlanta Ballet’s sleeve for ‘Nutcracker’

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Illusionist Drew Thomas puts tricks up Atlanta Ballet’s sleeve for ‘Nutcracker’

DANCE PREVIEW

“Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker”

Dec. 7 through Dec. 26 at the Fox Theatre, 660 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays. Also, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19, 1 p.m. Dec. 24, 2 p.m. Dec. 26. Tickets, $20-$88, via 1-855-285-8499, www.foxatltix.com, www.atlantaballet.com.

Other local “Nutcracker” performances

Georgia Dance Theatre

7 p.m. Dec. 10 and 2 p.m. Dec. 11 at McIntosh High School Auditorium at 201 Walt Banks Road in Peachtree City. Tickets may be available at the door; email Julie@gadance.com at 770-631-3128.

Gwinnett Ballet Theatre

Through Dec. 16 at the Gwinnett Performing Arts Center, matinee and evening shows, 6400 Sugarloaf Parkway in Duluth. Tickets $35.95 at Ticketmaster.com or at the Gwinnett Center box office from $19.50 to $29.50.

Metropolitan Ballet Theatre

Dec. 21 to 23, matinee and evening performances at 11460 Maxwell Road, Suite A, Alpharetta. Tickets $21.80 to $27.10 at www.metropolitanballet.org/events/nutcracker/.

DREW THOMAS ON …

  • On his collaboration with Atlanta Ballet artistic director John McFall: “John is a very creative individual and came to this with a wish list. … I had [my own] ideas, and when he would start a thought, I was almost able to finish some of his. It was a good meeting of the minds.”

  • On teaching the four dancers portraying the magician-like Drosselmeyer: “The guys have been real receptive. Here they have worked on their craft their entire lives, and all of the sudden I’m saying, ‘Have you ever wanted to be a magician? Good, because here you go!’ They’ve done well; repetition is key to mastering it.”
  • On his ultimate dream for “Nutcracker”: “I would love to make it full of magic from beginning to end, because there are so many ways to incorporate magic within the story, akin to ‘Phantom of the Opera.’”
  • On how he would try to persuade Atlanta Ballet leaders: “Companies have the opportunity to reinvent ‘The Nutcracker’ from time to time. I can bring in something that’s a lot more cost-effective than doing a whole new version of the ballet that, in my opinion, can bring a tremendous amount of revenue but also expand their audience base.”

 

— HOWARD POUSNER

As “Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker” opens, the handkerchief of the mysterious, magician-like Drosselmeyer blows off the stage and flies high over the Fox Theatre’s front rows. Shortly, the title nutcracker appears — poof! — out of nowhere. Then, after the toy is broken and repaired, it reappears from behind a curtain, somehow bigger.

Publicity materials for ubiquitous productions of the holiday hit always pump “the magic of ‘The Nutcracker.’” But there’s truth in advertising for this year’s edition of “Atlanta Ballet’s Nutcracker,” which features an extra dose of hocus-pocus.

The eight illusions scattered through the first half of Act 1 were created by Drew Thomas, the dark-visaged magician most famous for making it to the finals of “America’s Got Talent” in summer 2009.

Thomas’ act on the popular NBC reality show was scaled for TV, typically featuring some combination of power tools, scantily clad “Angels” and a soundtrack of wailing guitar solos — or all of the above. That’s pretty far removed from the proper Christmas party unfolding as “Nutcracker” opens inside the grand Stahlbaum house in small-town Germany.

Taking a break from rehearsals where he observed one of the dancers playing Drosselmeyer earlier this week, the Orlando-based magician acknowledged that modern illusions and Tchaikovsky’s classical story ballet, on the surface, appear to be “pieces of two different puzzles.”

In reality, though, they form a perfect fit, he believes.

“The real secret to what I am doing,” Thomas added, “is [employing] the same psychology that I use for my own show.”

This isn’t his first pas de deux, so he should know. At 18, Thomas began his professional magic career in a “Nutcracker” choreographed by Atlanta Ballet artistic director John McFall for his old troupe, Ballet Met in Columbus, Ohio.

Having taken jazz class at Ballet Met as a boy while getting deeply into magic, Thomas was a late addition in the role of Drosselmeyer when another young magician couldn’t mix all the movement with the tricks.

“Movement has always been a natural extension of who I am,” said Thomas, who stepped lightly through an obstacle course of hundreds of boxed nutcrackers in the Fox lobby that were about to stock souvenir stands. “I love to dance.”

For Atlanta Ballet’s 53rd production of “Nutcracker,” being performed 20 times at the 4,600-seat Fox through Dec. 26, Thomas is the offstage teacher of the four dancers portraying Drosselmeyer: Jonah Hooper, Armando Luna, Jesse Tyler and John Welker. But there has been talk that he’ll play the eccentric character next year.

“I would love to,” the 43-year-old illusionist said. “I welcome the opportunity and would do it in a New York minute.”

This, despite the fact that he’s planning to take his magic show on the road for a major American theater tour planned to launch next year and carry into 2014. As a reminder that Thomas is still working his way up the fame ladder, a videographer taped virtually his every move during Fox rehearsals — more promotional grist for his website (www.drewthomasmagic.com).

The reason he’s so nuts for “Nutcracker,” he said, is that the audience is already so engaged in the story that each member is more inclined to go along with any trickery he might add.

“A proper magic show is all about ‘OK, I’ve got a puzzle. Here we go, here’s another puzzle,’” he said.

“This,” Thomas added, referring to the 19th-century dance, “allows me to go deeper.”

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