Smart Financial Centre, in many ways, is the new friend so indispensable you forget how you lived without her. The $84 million Sugar Land performing arts super-venue has been around for less than a year, but it's played host to everyone from comedians like Jerry Seinfeld to musicians like Willie Nelson to, in a few short weeks, politicians like former Vice President Joe Biden. Now, after Hurricane Harvey wiped out the Wortham Theater Center, it will serve as one of two alternative venues to host the Houston Ballet's annual production of The Nutcracker.
Houston Ballet Executive Director Jim Nelson says the company had already been exploring Smart Financial as a potential satellite venue before the storm hit. It certainly has the seating capacity, and the prospect of reaching folks unwilling or unable to trek north on Highway 59 to downtown was certainly appealing from a business perspective. When nature forced the ballet's hand, other features like the orchestra pit made it a no-brainer as an option to salvage the beloved production, which accounts for more than a third of the company's total performances each season, and therefore a huge portion of current and future ticket sales.
"The Nutcracker is by and large new audience members's first interaction with the Houston Ballet," Nelson says. "The opportunity to introduce them to ballet would be a terrible loss for us."
Still, the venue isn't perfect. For one, Nelson says adjustments will be made to accommodate the 200-plus cast members in terms of dressing rooms and backstage logistics. And then there's the matter of hauling the costumes and props and other elements of Artistic Director Stanton Welch's 2016 multi-million dollar Nutcracker revamp down to Sugar Land and back to the Hobby Center, where the production will end its 2017 run. That shuffle will be "hugely expensive," involving 15 full-size trucks hauling the production back and forth—no trouble for a traveling company. "We are viewing this season as Houston’s Ballet’s hometown tour," Nelson says.
Beyond excellent sight lines, there are other small victories along the way, too. "To take the sugar plum fairies to Sugar Land is just a natural fit from a marketing perspective," Nelson adds.
Apparently others agree: The next act to perform at Smart Financial once Nelson et. al. pack up the trucks? That would be The Nutcracker—this time a touring production by the Moscow Ballet.
Tickets from $35. Dec. 10–23, Smart Financial Centre, 18111 Lexington Blvd, Sugar Land. Dec. 30–Jan. 6, Hobby Center for the Performing Arts, 800 Bagby St. More info and tickets at houstonballet.org.