Monday, November 23, 2009

Emerald City Theater's A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas

On Sunday we hit Emerald City Theater for A Nutty Nutcracker Christmas. The everlasting story of ETA Hoffman's perennial Nutcracker ballet has been reimagined from the point of view of Fritz, the naughty brother who breaks Clara's beloved nutcracker. In this version, Fritz joins forces with the Nutcracker-come-to-life to battle the Mouse King and save Christmas.

Emerald City Theater has produced a charming and rollicking show and playwright G. Riley Mills shows a great understanding of children's logic and fun. The show is sure to please just about the whole family, from kids three or so on up. My girls, who moments before were fighting the whole experience tooth and nail, sat on the edges of their seats, transfixed by the sight of Fritz refusing to go to his sister's "boring ballet." Halfway through the show, seven year old Mia was whispering explanations of the actors to me: "He's wearing a monkey head because he's a toy." "Those are elves." And by the end, my completely won-over girls cheered, "That was good!" They beamed in the lobby as cast members signed their special kids version of the playbill.

The show features some adorable puppetry, but the real stars are Ralph Covert's songs and Shea Coffman as the hilarious Mouse King. Coffman, who reminded me Will Ferrell in a kid-friendly mode, brings great timing, mimicry and fearlessness to his comic villainy. "I'm a CRAZY mouse!" he sings out before doing a little Beyonce-flava jig. I was cracking up and so were the kids. Like all great villain performances (I'm thinking Larry Yando as Jafar in Aladdin on Navy Pier last summer; I'm thinking Frankenstein's monster in Mary Shelley's novel I'm reading), there's a risk of upstaging the hero or at least exposing his/her namby-pamby underbelly. A small price to pay for this many laughs.

Multi-talented Ralph Covert of the Bad Examples (for the grownups) and Ralph's World (for the kids) wrote a Christmas stocking full of fun songs for the show. Covert creates infectious hooks and fun grooves that had me and my four year old bouncing in our seats.

The show runs through January 2 at the Apollo Theater on Lincoln Avenue.

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