Stowell and Sendak’s Nutcracker
Stowell and Russell were not done creating magical story ballets for PNB just yet! In 1981, the same year Swan Lake premiered, they began planning their very own version of The Nutcracker. After two years of working on the Christmas classic, Nutcracker premiered at PNB in 1983.
Stowell and Russell’s idea to create an original Nutcracker all began when Russell read a New York Times article about children’s book author Maurice Sendak’s sets for the opera The Magic Flute. Like many parents of the time, Stowell and Russell were familiar with Sendak’s genre-bending picture books like Where the Wild Things Are. Russell thought it would be “incredible to have Sendak’s kind of imagination” reimagine the Nutcracker. Stowell agreed and arranged to meet with Sendak in New York City. At first, Sendak was hesitant to work on Nutcracker. He felt it was a story so steeped in tradition that it was tired and overdone. Stowell convinced him that together they could create a version that was completely fresh, unique, and exciting. Over the next two years, Sendak and Stowell traveled from Seattle to New York to create their innovative Nutcracker.
Bringing Maurice Sendak’s set designs to life was a feat for the still-small PNB, which raised just $200,000 for the project. Parts of the set were completed all over North America; for example, some scenery was built in San Fransisco and painted in Toronto. The famous Nutcracker Christmas tree, which grows and grows in Act I of the ballet, was built in New York. The tree was so large and unwieldy that it took two and a half days to load into the theater and nine stagehands to operate it at every show! Randall G. Chiarelli, who oversaw the entire process of creating the Nutcracker sets, said the audience had a mood of “consternation, awe, and sheer terror” watching the tree grow on stage. Once every extravagant set element was constructed, PNB ended up spending $600,000. With costs severely over budget, sales needed to get cracking!