nutcracker1Excerpts from the Performing Arts Ensemble’s production of “The Nutcracker” will be featured this Sunday during a Big Holiday Show at the Middletown Arts Center.

While the upcoming Town Lighting ceremony in downtown Red Bank remains the event that officially keynotes the season’s festivities around the Greater Green, there’s already plenty going on to tantalize the appetites of those who can’t wait until after the Thanksgiving turkey is sawed into — and this Sunday, the Middletown Arts Center is the scene for a soup-to-nuts extravaganza that goes straight to the main course.

Presented by Red Bank’s own Performing Arts Ensemble of New Jersey, “The Big Holiday Show” offers up a program of holiday-themed production numbers, highlighted by excerpts from this year’s PAE staging of The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky’s immortal Christmas ballet (which will be performed in its entirety by PAE on November 28) boasts a lavish production design that serves to illuminate such scenes as “a frosty snow forest with falling snow, and Clara’s trip by sled to Candy Land.”

The 3 p.m. event also boasts a special bonus feature: a reading and book signing by Keith Brockett — a professional dancer (formerly with the Washington Ballet and guest artist with many companies including PAE) and author of the new book The Nutcracker’s Night Before Christmas. Tickets for Sunday afternoon’s holiday happening are $20 for adults and $15 for children and seniors. Call (732)614-5426 to order tickets, or to reserve a signing copy of the book.

Those who miss out on Sunday’s event in Middletown will have two additional chances to catch the PAE’s artistry onstage after Thanksgiving, and even after Christmas. On Saturday, November 28, the ballet takes the stage of the historic Paramount Theatre on the Asbury Park boardwalk for a 2 pm performance of The Nutcracker that’s followed by the lighting of the tree inside the Grand Arcade of Convention Hall — and on Sunday, December 27, the Red Bank troupe keeps the seasonal magic alive when the Big Holiday Show visits Manasquan’s Algonquin Arts Theatre for a 2 pm extravaganza. Tickets for any of the three upcoming events can be reserved by calling (732) 614-5426 or (732) 610-4003.