Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
December 26, 2014
Young Clara has a lot in common with Cindy-Lou Who. They both confront a Christmas-hating creature, and manage to save the day – and the holiday.
Cindy-Lou sidles up to the Grinch; Clara outsmarts the Rats, in a “modern retelling” of “The Nutcracker.” Not the ballet, it’s billed as a musical, though there are only three or four songs.
This stage play, created in 2007 by four members of The House Theatre in Chicago, is making its West coast debut at New Village Arts in Carlsbad. Helmed by artistic director Kristianne Kurner, the production falls short of some of the theater’s more polished and professional work.
The piece requires humor tinged with dark drama, considerable musical talent and more than a bit of theatrical magic. In all these, the company only partly succeeds.
But there are several standout elements. First, the delightful 11 year-old pro at its center: Abby De Spain, who could charm the pants off any Grinch or Rat King. She’s perfect in the part, an indomitable young lady who finds a way to move beyond tragedy – the shocking loss of her brother – to reunite her family and rediscover the joy of celebrating Christmas with friends and loved ones.
Second, there’s the wildly imaginative costume design of Jennifer Brawn Gittings, who creates fabulous leather-and-fur getups for the agile, menacing Rats – and cute gear for Clara’s three dolls and her new nutcracker that looks just like her recently deceased sibling. Together, she and her toys face the dark and use light to conquer rodents and grief.
The score, composed by Kevin O’Donnell, with lyrics by Jake Minton, is forgettable, but the dolls and Rats are cutely antic and inventively acted.
Like many adaptations of holiday classics, this one’s a pale shadow of the original. Still, kids can enjoy the surface fun, while adults delve a bit deeper. The signature “Nutcracker” cocktail in the lobby sweetens the deal.
“The Nutcracker” runs through December 31, at New Village Arts Theatre in Carlsbad.
©2014 PAT LAUNER