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Clara's Christmas Dreams

Presented by StageRight Productions, casting by Maitely Weismann, at the Theatre at St. Clement's, 423 W. 46 St., NYC, Nov. 26-Dec. 31.

This holiday season, StageRight Productions offers an ambitious musical version of Dumas' "The Nutcracker" titled "Clara's Christmas Dreams." The show is from the team of book writer-lyricist E. Thomalen and composer Tim Starnes.

Many of the familiar elements of the source material are in place. A young German girl named Clara (Justine Magnusson) receives a wooden soldier on Christmas Eve in 1812. As she sleeps that night, she becomes feverish and is visited in her dreams by fantastical creatures such as the Mouse King, the Snow Queen, and the Sugar Plum Fairy. Each of them tempts Clara with promises of "happy illusions" that prove to be foolish choices. Thank goodness the Nutcracker has come to life as the Prince (Julian Elfer) to help the young girl distinguish the differences between right and wrong.

No one was around to advise author Thomalen against settling on a few wrong choices, however. The use of rhyming verse in the script results in stilted dialogue. Further, the dialogue seems a bit too complex for a family show.

Luckily, the rest of the creative team offers strong contributions to maintain the magical atmosphere. Collaborator Starnes' musical score is sweet and stirring, and it utilizes his film-composing skills to good effect. The imaginative staging by director Bruce Merrill is only topped by choreographer Lisa Long's inspired sequences. The visual elements are all well done, from Anka Lupes' set and Diana Kesselschmidt's lighting to Kimberly Matela's costumes. And the cast features strong leading players, including Tad Wilson as kindly Dr. Drosselmeyer, Nate Rubin as a quirky Mouse King, Erica Sweany as a cool Snow Queen, and Katy Frame as a comical Sugar Plum Fairy. Elfer portrays a commanding Prince, and Magnusson displays talent and poise suggesting that a bright acting career is in her future.

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