A Holiday Concoction of Preteen Angst, Sibling Rivalry and Ballerina Dreams

Beth Fhaner
 | Nov 07, 2017

In Sugar Plum Fairy, Sandra Tsing Loh recalls one of her most cherished childhood dreams of landing the lead role in her dance school’s production of The Nutcracker. As any balletomane can attest, The Nutcracker—complete with Tchaikovsky’s thrilling score, plus dazzling sets and costumes—is a beloved holiday tradition. Across the country, young ballet dancers and experienced ballerinas alike await the opportunity to appear in this spectacular dance production every holiday season.


Sandra Tsing Loh and Shannon Holt ​in the world premiere of Loh's The Madwoman in the Volvo. Photo by Debora Robinson.

For NPR commentator, author and performer Loh, studying ballet as a preteen and auditioning for The Nutcracker turned out to be anything but the magical experience she envisioned. When Loh’s older, more talented sister, Kaitlin, was awarded the lead role in the Beverly Rosann School of Dance’s production of The Nutcracker, Loh found herself relegated to the “Waltz of the Flowers” chorus—a place where she believes all the reject girls of the world end up. Although misadventures abound and expectations of achieving prima ballerina status may never be realized, Loh ultimately discovers that there is always joy to be found during the holiday season.

Loh reteams with her Madwoman colleague Shannon Holt (who will take on numerous roles in Sugar Plum) and they are joined by Tony Abatemarco, who most recently has been seen in SCR’s Peter and the Starcatcher and Bach at Leipzig.

With Loh’s trademark candor and razor-sharp wit, Sugar Plum Fairy is a hilarious tale of pre-teen angst, stressful holidays and ballet auditions gone awry. With just the right amount of sweet and sour, Sugar Plum Fairy is guaranteed to get you into the holiday spirit! And you don’t have to be a balletomane to enjoy Sugar Plum Fairy—anyone can relate to this play that’s been described as “a comic assault on holiday sentiment” (SF Gate). 

Loh’s play, The Madwoman in the Volvo, premiered at SCR in 2015 and subsequently ran at Pasadena Playhouse and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. The New York Times selected her book of the same name for its 100 Most Notable Books list and Variety named her one of the 50 Most Influential Comedians. She has been a regular commentator on NPR’s “Morning Edition” and on PRI’s “This American Life” and “Marketplace”; her weekly segment, “The Loh Life” is heard on KPCC. She combines her communication and science skills into her syndicated daily minute, “The Loh Down on Science,” which is heard weekly by four million people. Her honors and awards include a Pushcart Prize, MacDowell fellowship and three National Magazine Award nominations. She is a contributing editor for The Atlantic Monthly and an adjunct professor of visual art and science communication at the University of California, Irvine.

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