Saturday, December 31, 2011

theatre review THE NUTCRACKER AND I - George Street Playhouse, December 29

New musicals are always hard to get right.  But finding a way to perfectly combine music, lyrics and story into a seamless whole is something that will be tried again and again by newcomers as well as by those who have been making musicals for many years.  The new musical The Nutcracker and I, which is ending it's month long run today at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, NJ, had a bit of an easy start to the whole new musical process in that the entire musical score is taken from Tchaikovsky's ballet The Nutcracker.   

Haley Carlucci and AJ Shively
Setting lyrics to Tchaikovsky's music was something of a lifelong dream for lyricist Gerard Alessandrini.  Along with book writer Peter Brash, Alessandrini has crafted a comic take off of the story of The Nutcracker where a young dancer, after breaking her leg at a rehearsal of the local high school production of The Nutcracker and taking a combination of painkillers and holistic remedies, imagines a chaotic Christmas adventure with a life size nutcracker that has come to life.

While overall The Nutcracker and I is a funny show, the idea of setting lyrics to Tchaikovsky's music doesn't always come off so well.  Alessandrini is good at writing comical lyrics, as the over 20 year run of his Forbidden Broadway shows Off Broadway and across the country attests to, but not all of Tchaikovsky's score is prone to having lyrics added to them.   The opening sequence, especially, doesn't quite gel into what a good opening number for a musical should be and a lot of that has to do with the music that isn't exactly crying out to have lyrics set to it.  Fortunately the cast, set, direction and the majority of the rest of the musical moments help offset a few of the more clunkier moments to make the evening into a fun show.  It is just too bad that Alessandrini and Brash didn't let some of the music play as an underscore and substitute simple dialogue for some of the more mediocre lyrics or the sequences where the music doesn't need lyrics, as Brash's book and dialogue are not only humorous and modern but in some scenes are quite touching as well.

Peter Scolari and the cast
The cast is led by Haley Carlucci as the dancer who breaks her leg and AJ Shively as the Nutcracker who comes to life.  They are both lovely in their roles and sing and dance beautifully.  Joseph Simeone has provided some nice choreography for both of them. The rest of the cast plays multiple parts with Peter Scolari, Annie Golden and Ed Staudenmayer especially capable of the various roles they play.  Golden is a hoot as the Sugar Rush Fairy and Scolari does a fine job as a Toy Policeman.  Both of them also get some of the best known pieces of the Tchaikovsky ballet as solo songs.  Nick Dalton is the high school hunk who's after Carlucci and while he does a good job at playing the airhead jock, some of his acting was a little too broad and over the top. 

Annie Golden
The set and staging are nicely done and include a knock out of an act one closer when Carlucci and Shively magically travel to Snow Globe City and end up inside an actual working snowglobe.  Act two includes a lovely three sided rotating set piece that shows various locales in Snow Globe City.  Set designer James Youmans has delivered the goods as his sets perfectly match the zany actions of the show.  Director David Saint not only moves the action along swiftly but provides touching moments with Carlucci and Shively as well as Carlucci and her "parents" Golden and Staudenmayer.   The three piece band, let by musical director David Caldwell provide a rich, full sound with many comical touches.  The modern orchestrations are nice as well.

With just a few tweaks from the writers, The Nutcracker and I could easily turn into a nice annual humorous alternate to the traditional Christmas Carol and Nutcracker productions that most theatres provide at the holidays.

Highlights from the show:

No comments:

Post a Comment