Curtain Up: Seasonal Shows and Festive Foods

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Some people get into the holiday spirit by shopping for presents or decorating a tree. For me, it’s seeing a holiday-themed show. Last weekend, I got a double dose of seasonal cheer when I took my friend Della to see ABT’s “The Nutcracker” at Segerstrom Center on Friday night, and “A Christmas Carol” at South Coast Repertory the next evening.

It was her first time seeing either production, so we commemorated the occasions by having dinner at AnQi on Friday night prior to “The Nutcracker,” and Bistango on Saturday night before attending “A Christmas Carol.”

Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo in The Nutcracker. Photo: Doug Gifford.

“The Nutcracker” and AnQi

“The Nutcracker” is probably the most beloved ballet in the world, which is why countless amateur and professional dance companies perform “The Nutcracker” every December.

The quintessential “Nutcracker” production may well be the American Ballet Theatre version that opened at Segerstrom Center for the Arts last Friday and runs through December 23.

Co-presented by the Center and ABT with choreography by ABT Artist in Residence Alexei Ratmansky, The Nutcracker features live music performed by  Pacific Symphony.

Sarah Lane and Herman Cornejo in The Nutcracker. Photo: Doug Gifford.

The story is a classic: Clara receives a nutcracker as a Christmas gift, then falls asleep and dreams about a world where her nutcracker comes alive and rescues her from the mouse king. They journey together to a fantasy kingdom of dancing sugarplum fairies and colorful characters.

The ABT version has some delightful differences in its staging (the opening scene is in the kitchen), but purists will not be disappointed with the visual storytelling. The dancing is, of course, virtually flawless. This ballet is not always about flashy footwork, but opening night principal dancers Hee Seo and Cory Stearns partnered beautifully, making challenging moves look easy.

This weekend’s pairings are Sarah Lane and Blaine Hoven on Friday, Stella Abrera and James Whiteside on Saturday at 2 p.m., Misty Copeland and Blaine Hoven on Saturday at 7 p.m., Hee Seo and Cory Stearns on Sunday at 12:30 p.m., and Christine Shevchenko and Thomas Forster on Sunday at 5:30 p.m.

Pink Lotus cocktail at AnQi

No matter which performance you choose, it will be fabulous.

Visit for tickets.

Prior to “The Nutcracker,” which started at 7 p.m., we dined across the street at AnQi in South Coast Plaza. Our 5:30 p.m. reservations gave us only an hour to dine, but we informed our server of our time crunch and were pleasantly surprised at how fast our food came out to the table.

We each ordered a cocktail. I made Della try the Pink Lotus ($13) which includes cotton candy that melts when the liquid is poured into the glass. It’s a fun show, and a tasty drink.

AnQi tacos

We shared the trio of tuna tacos with white truffles and black caviar ($16), the salt and pepper calamari ($17) and the classic garlic noodles ($14). All three dishes were perfect. The tacos had a nice balance of soft and crunchy, with the caviar a nice accompaniment to the tuna. The calamari was also the perfect balance of soft and crunchy, while the noodles had a nice flavor of garlic without being too overpowering.

The service at AnQi is excellent, and the décor is lovely. Visit 


“A Christmas Carol” and Bistango

The holidays are full of traditions. One of the longest-running theatrical traditions is “A Christmas Carol” at South Coast Repertory. They have been staging this perennial favorite for 39 years, and adults who saw the show as children are now bringing their own kids to see the story of miser Ebenezer Scrooge and how visits from three spirits transforms his heart and awakens his humanity.

Hal Landon Jr.

Hal Landon Jr. has been playing Scrooge for the entire run of the show, and several years ago jokingly told me he needs less and less makeup every year. He does work out at the gym, which is important given the physical demands of his role.

Seeing “A Christmas Carol” at SCR is an annual tradition for me. I know the story and the dialogue, but it never fails to delight. And every year the cast has some changes, especially the child actors and some of the adult roles, which helps to keep the show fresh.

Like a fine wine, “A Christmas Carol” keeps getting better with age, and has become a “must see” production. In fact, most of the performance through December 24 are sold out, so check with the box office at for tickets.

Bistango cocktails

Prior to “A Christmas Carol,” we opted for dinner at Bistango, which is only 10 minutes from Segerstrom Center. I had been to Bistango for lunch and for happy hour, but never for dinner, and this was Della’s first time.

We ordered cocktails and shared a salad, and then ordered entrees: a seasonal special pumpkin gnocchi with squash, sage and brown butter for me (which may be off the menu by the time you read this), and teriyaki salmon for Della.

I swooned over the ravioli, which was slightly crispy on the outside and soft inside. The brown butter sauce was heavenly. Della loved her salmon, which I also tasted and nearly stole from her plate.

Our server was delightful, the service impeccable and prompt, and the décor dazzling with artwork surrounding us.


Bistango salmon

Bistango gnocchi


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