Kurtis Blow (Photo provided by Hip Hop Nutcracker)

Going to see Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker” during the holiday season is a time-honored tradition for many families.

Over the past few years, a troupe of singers, dancers, and musicians have put a twist on the tradition in the award-winning production “Hip Hop Nutcracker.” Originally staged ten years ago, the show has grown in popularity and continues to fill concert halls and has even added a film version on Disney+. The show comes to the Providence Performing Arts Center on December 7 at 7:30. Tickets are available here.

This version of the renowned ballet features hip-hop legend Kurtis Walker, better known as Kurtis Blow, who is probably best remembered for his 1980 hit “The Breaks,” one of the first rap songs to bust out into the mainstream. I spoke to the famed rapper earlier this week and leaned how he got involved in the project.

“I remember the first time I witnessed these incredible dancers, the B-boy and B-girl dream team,” said Blow. “I saw them rehearsing and I had to be a part of it. I saw these girls and guys getting down, dancing to classical music, and hip hop beats under the music of Tchaikovsky. I was amazed to hear the fusion of classical and hip hop. I had to be a part of it and that’s why I’m here.”

“The Hip-Hop Nutcracker is an amazing event that will bring the whole family together with the spirit, the message, that theme that love conquers all,” he adds. “This is our 10th season, we’re really excited to do this again coming out of the pandemic. It’s been brutal how life has changed, we need this event for our communities, for our people to just come out have a good time, and enjoy the holiday season.”

The show itself tells the original story of “The Nutcracker,” set in New York City in 1980, with digital graffiti and visuals that transform the landscape. Maria-Clara and the Nutcracker Prince go on a dream adventure battling a gang of mice, visiting the land of sweets, and learning the lessons of the holiday season. But the set and costumes reflect the diverse sights and sounds of modern-day NYC, instead of 19th-century Germany.

The show was introduced to enthusiastic audiences ten years ago. “The reaction to it was promising, it was inspiring to see how many people … enjoyed the night,” Blow explained. “We received great reviews and (later) won an Emmy Award in 2021 for ‘Hip Hop Nutcracker.’ People are amazed when they see and leave the show feeling revitalized and energized. The reaction has been incredible.”

Blow shared more details about his role in the production. “I’m the MC and host and I come out in the intro and get everyone prepared for the show. I take everyone back with a medley of old-school hip-hop. When I come out, all the people are standing up, having a good time, throwing their arms in the air, and making a whole lot of noise, it’s an event!” said Blow.

“We do a song called “New Year’s Eve” and I have everyone countdown from ten to one, and we scream Happy New Year. I come back at the end and we sing “The Breaks” with the whole cast.

That song, “The Breaks” was the first certified gold rap song, “the hip hop culture, back in those days it was just an amazing time,” explained Blow. “Hip hop saved my life, living in the South Bronx and Harlem back in those days, it was pretty rough coming up. We had this blessing, this culture that spawned on all of us, it kept us out of harm’s out. That culture spread around the nation, and eventually the whole world.”

Blow was the first MC signed to a major label which greatly increased his listeners, and helped push hip-hop into the mainstream. He brought the genre to a worldwide audience.

“I’ve met a lot of people in Europe, in Germany or France, who would come up to me and say ‘Man, I learned to speak English by listening to your song The Breaks.’ Now, you go to those same countries, in Germany, they rap in German, in France, they rap in French.  The (hip hop) culture has grown to become accepted and a part of other cultures. It’s incredible to see how it has changed over the years.”

As for “The Nutcracker,” “my cast and crew give 100% every night, with passion and energy and love and spirit, said Blow. “It’s the holiday season and we’re out there doing it, trying to show the love. I’m seeing grandparents bringing their children and their children’s children, it’s amazing to see. Hip-hop is for everyone, it’s something that brings humanity together. We’re one big human family and we’re all together in the spirit of love and love conquers all.”

Ken Abrams

Lifestyle Editor Ken Abrams writes about music, the arts and more for What'sUpNewp. He is also a contributor to Providence Monthly, SO RI, Hey Rhody and The Bay magazines. Ken DJ's "The Kingston Coffeehouse,"...