Music & Nightlife

Legendary rapper Kurtis Blow turns back the clock for an ’80s-set reimaging of “The Nutcracker”

“The Hip Hop Nutcracker” comes to Charlotte’s Ovens Auditorium this week.
“The Hip Hop Nutcracker” comes to Charlotte’s Ovens Auditorium this week. Courtesy of Kurtis Blow

From prima ballerinas to high-flying aerialists, local productions to international tours, Charlotte has seen a plethora of versions of “The Nutcracker” in the last month. As the holiday season nears its end, a contemporary modernization of the story —“The Hip Hop Nutcracker” — closes out its U.S. tour at Knight Theater with shows Wednesday through Saturday.

Set partly in the ’80s via flashbacks, “Hip Hop Nutcracker” is an urban reimagining filled with breakdancing, beats and Tchaikovsky’s original music. Given the setting, it’s no wonder an old-school emcee was drafted as host.

Kurtis Blow — who emerged as music’s first mainstream rapper with 1979’s “Christmas Rapping” — joined the production five years ago after a friend suggested he meet with its creators.

“I went over to rehearsal in New Jersey and saw the young people b-boying and girling up a storm to this classical music. Then this DJ came in and started cutting up beats under the classical music,” says Blow, calling from a tour stop in Detroit last week.

Blow’s performances of his legendary hits frame Maria-Clara and her Prince’s adventure through 1980s Brooklyn, to the very nightclub circa where the girl’s parents met. The quest is much the same, but the setting is new.

“It’s a modernized version of the classic. You have the b-boys and b-girls representing breakdancing and telling the story through dance, but the story is still the same: two young people who fall in love, and their love creates magic that defeats evil,” explains Blow, who is now a minister at the Hip-Hop Church he co-founded.

In fact, the way “Hip Hop Nutcracker” presents the 120-year-old Russian ballet is not that different from the way Blow interprets the gospel for his congregations — giving the material a contemporary spin that a younger audience can relate to.

“It’s a modernized version of the gospel,” he says of the church. “We have no dress code, no age limit. Religion is for everyone, it’s just using hip-hop in the presentation.”

“We have a DJ and a choir and gospel rap. The actual sermons are catered toward youth,” he says, citing past sermons like “It’s not all about the Benjamins” or “Holla at your boy.”

“Hip Hop Nutcracker” delivers a message of love not unlike his Sunday services.

“It’s a covert operation for me to spread the gospel,” he says. “The theme is love, and they create a magic that defeats evil. Love against hate and evil ... which is something we need now more than ever.”

‘The Hip Hop Nutcracker’

When: 7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, with 2 p.m. matinees on Thursday and Saturday.

Where: Knight Theater, 430 S. Tryon St.

Tickets: $19.99-$49.99.

Details: 704-372-1000; www.blumenthalarts.org.

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