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The Nutcracker And I

By Gary Wien


Around this time of the year, I always pity the person in charge of event calendars at arts publications. There's only so many times you can type "The Nutcracker", "A Christmas Carol", or "Handel's Messiah". Trust me, I've been there and speak from experience.

I've often wondered why we see so many new Christmas movies each year, both on television and in the movie theaters, and hear new takes on the classics and original Christmas songs by musicians, but rarely see new plays that revolve around Christmas. Thankfully this year is different. If you're tired of mouthing the words to "A Christmas Carol" from your seats or have seen "The Nutcracker" so many times you've become allergic, a new musical from George Street Playhouse will hit the spot.

"The Nutcracker And I" is currently running at George Street until the end of the year. Written and conceived by Gerard Alessandrini and Peter Brash, the play is a welcome addition to the holiday season.

According to production notes, Alessandrini always believed that the Nutcracker could be adapted as a traditional musical comedy. "He wanted to transform Tchaikovsky's masterpiece, using all that glorious music, into a book show with his own zany, satirical lyrics. For him, writing this show was a childhood dream."

As luck would have it, George Street's own Artistic Director, David Saint, grew up with Alessandrini in Massachuesetts while he began writing his holiday parodies. "I am so pleased to be bringing this hilarious holiday farce to life in New Brunswick. We have assembled an amazingly talented cast, and a slate of extraordinary designers as well, and I am thrilled to be bringing them all to George Street for the enjoyment of our patrons and their families."

"The Nutcracker And I" is like a magical Christmas fairytale. It follows the path of Celeste Snowden (played by the remarkable Haley Carlucci) as she prepares for the moment she's waited her entire life for -- the lead in "The Nutcracker". Unfortunately, a Christmas tree accident during final rehearsals steers her to the emergency room instead of the stage. What follows is a rather amazing journey into a world in which everyday is Christmas.

Peter Scolari returns to George Street's stage and plays a myriad of characters from Professor Hoffmann, the director of "The Nutcracker", to a Hindu cab driver and a doctor with a heavy New England accent. Annie Golden and Edward Staudenmayer are in and out of various characters as well. The constant shuffling seems to add to the fairytale sense of wonder. Scolari, perhaps best known for his work in "Bosom Buddies" and "Newhart", is wonderful in zany comedies like this. Meanwhile, Golden's smile is still as memorable as it was many years ago in the classic film version of the musical "Hair".

Rounding out the cast is A.J. Shively, Nick Dalton, and Aidan Benavides. Shively is excellent as the Nutcracker, while Dalton offers one of those performances which truly defines a role. After seeing this production, it's difficult to imagine anyone else in the character of Zack Whitefield, an Olympic snowboarder determined to win over Celeste. Making his George Street debut is the young Benavides who as Peter Snowden believes the Nutcracker is some sort of superhero in the same way that Linus believes in the Great Pumpkin. This belief that the Nutcracker is something more than made of wood is the backbone of the story. Benavides also has his own moment in the sun during a stint as a pizza boy. One of several "politically incorrect" moments in the play, each very humorous and very different from traditional Christmas fare. If you don't like laughing at stereotypes, this may not be the play for you. In fact, at one moment Celeste exclaims, "It's fun being politically incorrect. What other group can we insult?"

Since the play revolves around Celeste and her fate, Carlucci has to be on top of her game and she is. In fact she commands the stage so well during this production that it's hard to take your eyes off of her. Her voice is wonderful and she simply looks the part. She's the epitome of a fairytale damsel.

What I enjoyed most about this production was the way the designers incorporated lighting, sound, and stage design to help create a truly amazing experience. You actually feel that Celeste and the Nutcracker are walking down the streets of the magical Snowglobe city -- a scene that ranks among my favorite live theatre moments. While some of the songs don't always hit the mark, there are far more hits than misses which is what you'd hope for in a new musical. The music also benefits from a live three-piece orchestra, something you rarely see anymore.

All in all, "The Nutcracker And I" is highly recommended. It's a wonderful break from the traditional Christmas programs that we all love but can recite from memory. It's time for some new classics to be added to the season and when a play even has Peter Scolari in a "Bosom Buddies"-like flashback moment, what's not to love?




All photos by T. Charles Erickson


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Holmdel Theatre Company Presents 'ART'
(HOLMDEL, NJ) – The Holmdel Theatre Company (HTC) will present 6 performances of Yasmina Reza’s ‘ART’  from December 7th through December 16th. Translated from French by Christopher Hampton, the play tells the story of what happens when Serge buys an expensive painting, and the reactions of his two closest friends, Marc and Yvan, to his purchase. As what begins as a discussion about the quality of the painting that Serge has purchased quickly devolves into petty jabs and personal attacks, the three men border on destroying their friendships.
Pebble Players Presents "Heathers, the Musical: High School Edition"
(SUMMIT, NJ) -- Celebrating their 10th season, Pebble Players has been entertaining Summit residents and audiences from surrounding towns with sophisticated Off-Broadway quality performances. The 2018 Season opens with "Heathers The Musical: High School Edition," directed by Jayne Myers and choreographed by Jaimie Woodruff.  Performances are Friday, November 16 and Saturday, November 17 at 7:30pm and Sunday, November 18 at 2:00pm. 
NJPAC Presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies
(NEWARK, NJ) -- New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) presents Duke Ellington's Sophisticated Ladies from Thursday, March 21, 2019 - Saturday, March 23, 2019. The high-style music of “The Duke” is the heart and soul of this 1981 Tony-winning Broadway hit, directed with dazzle by André De Shields (The Wiz). Mercedes Ellington, granddaughter of Duke Ellington, re-creates the original show’s elegant dancing and tapping as choreographer.
Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater present Teahouse by Lao She
(PRINCETON, NJ) --Princeton Chinese Theatre in collaboration with the Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Theater at Princeton University will present Teahouse by Lao She on November 16, 17 and 18 at 8:00pm and November 17 at 2:00pm in the Donald G. Drapkin Studio at the Lewis Arts complex on the Princeton campus. Teahouse is considered a masterpiece of contemporary Chinese theater, spanning 50 years in modern Chinese history from the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the Republican Revolution to the birth of the People’s Republic, bringing together over sixty characters who represent all walks of life. The production is directed by senior Changshuo Liu.
Axelrod's Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts Program Presents "Peter Pan"
(OCEAN TOWNSHIP, NJ) --  A family musical that’s perfect for the holiday season, “Peter Pan” is flying onto the Axelrod stage December 8-16. Axelrod’s award-winning Rising Stars Youth Performing Arts program presents one of Broadway’s timeless classics in a fully staged production directed by Lisa Goldfarb with musical direction by Randy Hurst and choreography by Wendy Roman.  


Broadway’s Next H!T Musical LIVE! at Toms River’s Grunin Center
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The Last Apple Pie: "Apples In Winter" Opens At Centenary Stage
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See Andrea McArdle LIVE! in Annie at Deal Park’s Axelrod PAC!
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"It's a Blast!" Go See Rock of Ages 10th Anniversary Tour NOW! at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino!
The five-time Tony award-nominated Broadway musical, Rock of Ages, returns to the stage with a 10th Anniversary Tour at Atlantic City’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino! Performed in the venue’s ultra-modern Sound Waves theater, Rock of Ages runs from now until November 4, 2018.
There's One In Every Family: "Charley's Aunt" at The Shakespeare Theatre
On stage now through November 18 at the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, “Charley’s Aunt” is described as “part Oscar Wilde, part ‘Fawlty Towers,’ with a dash of South American spice!” This side-splitting British farce from 1892 has drag, mistaken identity, romance and plenty of physical comedy. Join Jesse and Dave at rehearsals in Florham Park to hear from the cast and director what makes this such a hilarious and enduring show.






Event calendar
Thursday, Nov 15, 2018


MUSIC

New Politics @ House of Independents, Asbury Park - 8:00pm

THE REPUTATIONS @ The Saint, Asbury Park - 7:30pm

TOTO @ Mayo Performing Arts Center (MPAC), Morristown - 8:00pm


THEATRE

An Actor's Carol @ Cape May Stage, Cape May - 7:30pm

ANNIE, The Musical @ Axelrod Performing Arts Center, Deal Park - 8:00pm

Apples In Winter @ Centenary Stage Company - Kutz Theater of the Lackland Center, Hackettstown - 7:30pm

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat @ The Levoy Theatre, Millville - 7:30pm

Spring Awakening: The Rock Musical @ Black Box PAC, Teaneck - 8:00pm







DANCE

PARSONS DANCE @ State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick - 8:00pm


FILM

Crybaby Matinee: March of the Penguins @ Hopewell Theater, Hopewell - 11:00am

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