Billed as an "all talking, all singing, no dancing" musical comedy, The Nutcracker, Gerard Alessandrini and Peter Brash's send-up of the venerable holiday ballet, The Nutcracker and I, onstage at the George Street Playhouse, is the perfect antidote to an overdose of Sugar Plum Fairies.
Under David Saint's saintly direction, a troupe of seven talented singer/actors warble witty lyrics set to music by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky's music while making lightning-fast costume changes to morph into a myriad of wacky characters in this modern-day retelling of the rather weird story of talking nutcrackers, dancing mice and young girls who have nightmares that come to life. Trust me, you'll never view The Nutcracker the same way again!
Transposed from Moscow to Pawchusetts, Massachusetts, an economically depressed New England mill town, The Nutcracker and I involves a high school production of the ballet, derailed when a tumbling Christmas tree hits the star ballerina and prevents her from performing. While recuperating on her family's living room sofa, Celeste (formerly Clara) ODs on pain killers and is whisked away to Snow Globe City by a handsome Nutcracker. There, she meets people from all walks of life, eludes the smarmy snowboarder dude who's pursuing her and learns that true love comes in the most surprising guises.
Farce is in full swing in this delightful production. Not one character is played for real; all the actors actively—and legally—chew up the scenery. As Celeste, Haley Carlucci (right) flexes her fine operatic pipes repeatedly, especially in two delightful duets with the Nutcracker entitled "Black Velvet Night" and "Love is Eternal." A long and lean A.J. Shively (right) is transformed in the wink of an eye from the nerdy Elliot (he who makes the tree topple over) to a long-limbed, red-coated, chivalrous Nutcracker. He too sings very well and performs a mean trepak in a department store. As his nemesis, Zach Whitefield, Nick Dalton (below, left) gets to talk like a half-pipe champion crossed with a Valley Girl. He's definitely creepy and not at all a match for Celeste; why her mother likes him is beyond understanding.
Great fun is dispensed by four other actors playing multiple roles. Master farceur Peter Scolari (top, left) is in rare form as the Toy Policeman, the Firebird Waiter and ballet choreographer George Balanchine. He not only changes his clothes but his body English, accent and wigs as well! Annie Golden (left) brings down the house each time she appears as the Sugar Rush Fairy, complete with candy canes on her tutu and a pair of cupcakes—well, you know where! Main male roles are inhabited by Edward Staudenmayer: Celeste's out of work, goofy father, a bodega owner, a Ukrainian waiter and Tchaikovsky himself! Aidan Benevides rounds out the cast with a nice turn as Celeste's brother and the Pizza Boy.
James Youmans has outdone himself with a beautiful set, most notably turning the GSP stage into the inside of a snow globe. Three-sided, it has all the landmarks of New York City, with Carnegie Hall, the Russian Tea Room restaurant, Macy's and the facade of Lincoln Center (complete with the Chagall tapestries), among others. Here, under a Tiffany blue sky, "Yuletide is high tide each day." He also has a Christmas tree that grows, just as in the ballet. On the arched proscenium, Steve Channon has projected snowflakes and department store logos. David Murin's costumes add to the farcical atmosphere.
If you've ever seen Forbidden Broadway, those biting spoofs of hit plays with satiric lyrics written to accompany the original music, you'll be familiar with the work of Gerard Alessandrini. Alessandrini doesn't disappoint here; he even gets in a dig at Mitt Romney! Of course, he plays with Tchaikovsky's melodies, slowing down the tempo here and ratcheting it up there. He has noted that the melodies are written in a form familiar to composers of popular music (AABA), so the lyrics don't sound odd, just very funny. Brash's script is equally as wacky and appropriate for these tough economic times; it's a "bankrupt Christmas" for the Snowdons with the dad out of work. But miracles can happen (especially with magic nuts), and the George Street Playhouse's world premiere production of The Nutcracker and I may just be one! It's a hoot. And I promise: NO DANCING!
The Nutcracker and I will be performed at the George Street Playhouse, 9 Livingston Avenue in New Brunswick through December 31. For information and tickets, call 732.246.7717 or visit online at www.GSPonline.org.
Photos by T. Charles Erickson.