Sunday, December 7, 2014

Clara & The Nutcracker, Talespinner Children’s Theatre

Little kids are supposed to go see The Nutcracker at the holidays. It’s a rule. Even if tots don’t really comprehend what’s going on, heck, people are jumping around and there’s music.

But if you want to show the kids the story without all that ballet folderol, take them to Clara & The Nutcracker, now at Talespinner Children’s Theatre. In this clever adaptation by local actor and writer Anne McEvoy, the focus is on the yarn about Clara and her fantastical relationship with a kitchen appliance dressed up as a soldier.

It all begins in a surprising manner, with “stagehands” in white jumpsuits being called upon at the last minute to fill in for a ballet company that got stranded in a snowstorm. Happily, they’re all wearing Nutcracker costumes under their jumpsuits (as all stagehands do…don't ask), and soon, true to this company’s moniker, they’re spinning the tale.

Under the skillful direction of Alison Garrigan and thanks to an inventive cast, it’s easy to follow the plot as Uncle Drosselmeyer (Michael Regnier) gifts Clara (Tania Benites) with the nutcracker (Ryan Christopher) and she sails off on her adventure.

Charles Hargrave delights in various roles as Clara’s brother Fritz, the Mouse King and the Snowflake King, and Elaine Feagler is a hoot as a non-traditional Sugar Plum Faerie.

As always with TCT, there are puppets and masks. These work well, especially when gaggle of mice is represented by Sarah Moore as the Mouse Queen puppet and a couple other actors play mice with additional mice strapped to their heads. There is also lots of audience participation (“Be a ticking clock!” “Be a scratchy mouse!”) that keeps the small patrons on their toes.

This is fun stuff for kids, and there are enough witty asides in McEvoy’s script to keep adults amused (one character threatening the Nutcracker: “You’ve cracked your final filbert!”).

As seems to be true with many TCT plays, the littler audience members seem to reach their attention span limit at about 50 minutes. So the last ten minutes of many productions, including this one, feel a bit dicey as the kids squirm.

Clara is a sure-fire winner for families with small children. And it’s especially fun to see the kids meet the costumed actors up close and personal, immediately after the performance. If you like to see those little eyes light up, haul ‘em over to Talespinner this month.

Clara & The Nutcracker
Through December 21 at the Talespinner Children’s Theatre, The Reinberger Auditorium, 5209 Detroit Avenue, 216-264-9680.

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