The Puppet Co. presents Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, a holiday classic beautifully re-imagined through puppetry. The versatile and multi-talented Christopher Piper, who holds the titles of performer, puppetmaster, and mask and puppet designer, also directs this visual stunner.
I always have a great time when I visit The Puppet Co. During this visit, the always-friendly staff is dressed in matching holiday skirts and vests, and are in festive spirits as they talk to the children, who are sprawled out on the casual (and comfortable) rug floor while their parents sit on accommodating 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 handsome 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. The Lighting Design by Dan Brooks helps set the tone of the story, going from light and crisp to dark and foreboding when appropriate. However, what really narrates the story (as there is no dialogue) is the classic, well-loved music, arranged by Allan Stevens. These aspects all work together to create a great environment.
What really sets this performance of The Nutcracker apart from the rest is the unique costumes and use of puppetry. Performers Christopher Piper, Nora Achrati, Brett Messiora, Matt Reckeweg, and Leslie Vincent stun the audience as they bear grandiose puppet masks that transform them into life-sized dolls. The effect is striking – they are beautiful, but with a tiny hint of eeriness that makes it impossible to look away. The rest of their costumes are bold and detailed, from frilly pajamas and lacy dresses, to fine suits, capes, and top hats.
Since the story is told through music and movement, a summary of the plot is included in the program (though the story is not hard to follow even without reading it). 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.
Special effects like fog and snowfall make the already enjoyable performance close to perfect. While the “puppets” can sometimes be slow moving (like in a sword-fight scene) it is miraculous that the performers can even act out such a scene at all, as their heavy and cumbersome (though gorgeous) headgear weigh them down and obscure, if not completely hinder, their vision. Marionettes 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, this show is extremely enjoyable for people of all ages. If your family is only seeing one show this holiday season, then make it this one!
Running time: 50 minutes.
A video preview of The Nutcracker.