For more than 40 years, the Billings Symphony Orchestra has been ushering in the holidays with the Sugar Plum Fairy, dancing Candy Canes and other magical characters.

The tradition of presenting “The Nutcracker” the weekend after Thanksgiving has been going since the 1970s. This year, the production at the Alberta Bair Theater will be the biggest yet, with 130 local girls dancing in three performances: at 2 and 7 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 25, and at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 26. Tickets range from $22 to $47 and are available at the ABT box office, by phone at 256-6052 or online at

Three Billings girls will perform as Clara and two local girls will take on the role of her pesky brother, Fritz.

Betty Loos, co-director of the Montana Dance Center, said she looks for talented dancers who have the personality to pull off their roles. She is assisted by Julia Marble in rehearsing the local girls.

“They also have to be the right height, and they need to be able to do the choreography. This year, we had six girls who could have done it.”

Lila Virostko, Marlee O’Toole and Macey Groener will perform as Clara, and Anna Walsh and Landry Neil will dance as Fritz.

With two dress rehearsals and three performances, the dancers will spend most of their holiday weekend at the ABT, dancing to Tchaikovsky's soaring score.

“It’s kind of important because it helps you get ready for the holiday season,” said O’Toole, 13.

Groener, 13, said it’s a lot of work, but it’s all fun.

“When it’s all over, it is really sad,” she said.

Virostko, 12, said it’s a privilege to be selected for the role.

“It’s one of my favorite shows and this is a really good chance for me to perform with professional dancers.”

Neil and Walsh, both 11, get to ham it up as Fritz. They will also perform as Ginger Snaps and Party Girls, requiring them to make some quick costume changes.

“It’s a lot of work, but it makes the holiday special,” Neil said.

One year, O’Toole said she had to transition so quickly from a Russian Bear to a Garland Girl that she couldn't quite get the red makeup off her nose.

But mostly, the show is a magical feat, given the number of girls involved and the roles they play.


Entertainment Reporter

Jaci Webb covers entertainment for The Billings Gazette.