Well, now I’ve seen everything – a puppet rendition of The Nutcracker that works and will have you clamoring for more. There’s a reason why The Puppet Company has lasted nearly 30 years with The Nutcracker as its prime jewel — it features the perfect blend of actors in beautifully crafted masks and marionettes which are tiny masterpieces, telling the tale.
The favorite Nutcracker ballet characters are all there, the dramatic elements work since the choreography fits every nuanced beat and the actors and puppets move gracefully to the music.
The sibling rivalry between Clara and her brother Fritz is apparent in the opening scene as well as the wonder of the mysterious family friend “Godpapa” cloaked as a magician who delivers their toys. Clara plays with her favorite toy nutcracker until she falls asleep (or in a trance) and ends up in a make-believe land where now the size of the giant toys, she is nearly attacked by a giant mouse until saved by her precious, now full size, gallant warrior Nutcracker. Clara then gets a chance to sit back and enjoy the many splendid characters in the land that dance and twirl and perform to the immortalized Tchaikovsky ballet score. The Turkish dancers are there, this time sitting on rolling stools performing their wondrous footwork with exquisite delivery.
There are animals galore including a fabulous sparkling camel with an elongated torso and a friendly horse that emerged through the audience getting squeals of delight from the crowd.
Examples of the company’s creative artistry are abundant – from the very beginning when Godpapa’s cloak appears to stretch across of stage as a curtain and then return to size when he exits. In another segment, the titles of well known Fairy Tales are printed in a large book and the characters quickly appear on stage for fleeting moments. The rosebud flowers give a memorable performance, as does the timeless Sugar Plum fairy. And finally in my favorite, a fully adorned sultan in purple and gold turbaned regalia in a brilliant neon frame sits on a carpet that rises mysteriously to the sultry musical score. It’s a dream of an act.
To say that the company adds a sense of magic and wizardry to The Nutcracker doesn’t do it justice. The puppets work because the dramatic elements are there, and the audience members, young and older alike, tap into their imagination to connect the dots. All of the masks have been created in the Puppet Company workshop, some out of material that is no longer even available, and the actors operate all the puppets in full double-sometimes triple duty, telling the story with their own physicality and attentive care.
And talk about experience! Eric Brooks has a graduate degree in Puppet Arts, co-founder Christopher Piper is a second-generation puppet master, and fellow co-founder Allan Stevens directed puppet theater at the Smithsonian for over thirty-years ago. Having such talented performers full of history, longevity and passion for the work assures award winning performances as well as a rich environment respected by artists of all kinds. Imagine my surprise to see one of my favorite performers, Veronica del Cerro, in their midst for the second year as Clara. She, along with the rest of the talented cast members, express their character with enchantment and style.
No wonder that, according to program, generations of children are now bringing their own kids to these amazing annual shows.
Original Musical Score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Director, Mask and Puppet Design by Christopher Piper
Original Staging, Music Arranger, Design Concept by Allan Stevens
Produced by The Puppet Company
Reviewed by Debbie Minter Jackson
The Nutcracker runs thru Dec 31, 2010 at The Puppet Company in Glen Echo Park, 7300 Glen Echo Blvd, Glen Echo, MD.