Monday, December 14, 2009

Mini-Reviews of Nutcracker, Dr. Frankincense & White Christmas

White Christmas
( Dr. Frankincense)

Moscow Ballet's thrilling Great Russian Nutcracker, seen at La Mirada Performing Arts Center one nite only on December 23, Cabrillo Music Theatre's White Christmas, playing but 7 performances from December 26-29 in Thousand Oaks...and an over-the-top silly one-act entitled Dr. Frankincense and the Christmas Monster guesting at Write Act Rep in Hollywood.
Firstly, The Nutcracker has always been my favorite ballet; Tchaikovsky's music is so dreamlike and exhilarating that it overpowers me. The dance, however, is another story. I have seen local companies ruin its beauty with their amateurish moves, and so, despite the glorious sounds, the sights have left much to be desired. Not so, I am pleased to say with the Moscow Ballet under the outstanding direction of Anatoliy Emelianov, who also dances the role of the Balletmaster. Every skilled move was to be relished. And... the gorgeously colorful hand-painted sets and costumes were all breathtaking. This was a Nutcracker to remember! Kudos as well to Evgeni Poclitari as the Nutcracker, Ekaterina Bortykova as Masha and Akzhol Mussakhanov as the Prince and the rest of the excellent company for their brilliant artistry. The story is somewhat different in this version; it does not begin at the Drosselmeyer's home but rather in the studio where the Balletmaster leads the freshly come-to-life dolls to the Christmas Eve soiree. In Act II the "Land of Peace and Harmony" in which Arabian, Chinese, Moore, French, Spanish and Russian folk are represented is nothing short of exotic, and the oversized animal dolls are thrilling to watch, whether dancing or just hamming it up. Great stuff!!

White Christmas is one treat of a film and even brighter on stage. The touring and original Broadway productions, which played Los Angeles only once at the Pantages, in 2005 - please bring it back next season! - were gloriously directed by Walter Bobbie and choreographed by Randy Skinner, who turns the second act opener "I Love a Piano" into one of the most inventive & lively tap sequences ever! Cabrillo Music Theatre mounted the show this year for 7 performances only, and under Todd Nielsen's meticulous direction, a sturdy acting company made this production a sublimely frothy confection. David Engel (Bob), Roger Rogel (Phil), Jennifer Mathews (Betty) and Cassie Silva (Judy) gave diliriously energizing performances and with Michael Catlin (Sheldrake), Ron Rezac (the General), and Karla J. Franco (Martha) et al offering consistently steady support, the ensemble was top-notch. Melissa Giattino was faithful to Skinner's original choreography - "...Piano" had its own special zing. Darryl Archibald served marvelously as musical director, with the entire orchestra visible on stage. Mounted like a Reprise! production, the show lacked nothing; it was a delightfully generous post-holiday offering to its SRO audiences.

Lastly - and a huge surprise for me - was Sean Abley's silly one-act Dr. Frankincense and the Christmas Monster which played in tandem with the more readily dismissed short one-act Yardsale at Write Act Rep prior to Christmas. Akin to a Mel Brooks parody, the play, set in Christmas Village, featured such characters as Santa and Mrs. Claus, Rudolph, Frosty, Sugarplum Fairy, Ms. Tinsel, Jack Frost, the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Noels, the Evergreens and Myrrh, spastic assistant to Dr. Frankincense.

Why Frankincense created the monster and how it eventually affected the townsfolk are treated with an abundance of sick one-liners and over-the-top acting, but it proved far more saitsfying than I anticipated. Praise to the ever reliable Alexandra Billings as the neglected Mrs. Noel ("I am important"), who brings zest to any role she plays, to Dylan Vox as a hilariously overbearing mess of an assistant Myrrh and to Tchia Casselle who makes the drunken Ghost extra funny. Adapted from Ray Kampf's "The Horrible Account of Dr. Frankincense", Abley's play needs some of its repetitiousness pruned and certain kinks need smoothening, but the piece has definite promise and is hardly forgettable.

Happy New Year 2010!!!!


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