The Puppet Co. presents Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, a holiday classic beautifully re-imagined through puppetry. The multi-talented Christopher Piper, who holds the titles of performer, puppetmaster, and mask and puppet designer, also directs this visual stunner. The original staging and design concepts are credited to Allan Stevens.
I always have a great time when I visit The Puppet Co. The always-friendly staff are in festive spirits as they talk to the children, who are sprawled out on the carpeted floor while their parents sit on raised steps. The Puppet Co. knows children, and as a reviewer that visits a lot of child-oriented theatres, I am most impressed with this venue. They even have live television feed of the show in their lobby in case a child gets “the wiggles” and needs to step out for a minute. This is a wonderful atmosphere for children, made only better by the fact that the theatre is set in the family-friendly Glen Echo Park, which offers countless activities for families, including a grand carousel and playground.
The colorful set is bedecked with luxurious red and green velvet drapes, as well as splendid archways, a towering grandfather clock, and painted holly, wreaths, and, of course, a Christmas tree. As there is no dialogue in this story, narration is provided in the form of the classic music, arranged by Allan Stevens. What really sets this performance of The Nutcracker apart from its competition (it is a popular show during the holiday season), are the unique costumes and use of puppetry. Performers Christopher Piper, Nora Achrati, Casey Leffue, Matt Reckeweg, and Rose Talbot stun the audience as they don grandiose puppet masks that transform them into life-sized dolls. The effect is striking – the large, blank eyes make them hauntingly beautiful. The rest of their costumes are bold and detailed, from frilly pajamas and lacy dresses, to fine suits, velvet capes, and top hats.
Since the story is told through music and movement, a summary of the plot is helpfully included in the program. While two siblings (Clara-Marie and Fritz) play together on Christmas Eve, a man appears and entertains them with a puppet show, including a nutcracker and a feisty mouse that almost breaks the nutcracker- who is rescued by Clara-Marie. After bedtime, Clara Marie is confronted by the angry mouse and magically shrinks down to the size of a toy (the set itself cleverly transforms along with her). What follows is a battle, heroic feats, and a wonderful adventure to Sugar Plum Land, the home of fairy-tale characters, dancing flowers, a large, shimmery blue dragon that is manned by two people, and other magical creatures. Special effects like fog and snowfall make the already enjoyable performance close to perfect. Marionettes and hand puppets are also used in the production, and show off what a talented puppeteer is capable of.
Simply put, if this production cannot get you into the Christmas spirit, then nothing can. With life-sized puppets, splendid effects, and a beautiful score, The Puppet Co.’s The Nutcracker is extremely enjoyable for people of all ages.
If your family is only seeing one show this holiday season, then make it The Puppet Co.’s The Nutcracker.
Running Time: 50 minutes, without an intermission.
The Nutcracker runs through December 30, 2012 at The Puppet Co. – 7300 MacArthur Blvd, in Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, MD. For tickets, call (301) 634-5380, or order them online.