Mark Foehringer’s Nutcracker at Zeum Theater, San Francisco, December 21

23 Dec

Condensing the Nutcracker story to 45-50 minutes is quite a feat, but Mark Foehringer had assistance from Michael Morgan who heads the East Bay Symphony Orchestra, skillful costume designs by Richard Battle, adding swirls of yellow to the same color leotard to create the Spanish costume, matching the flouncy skirt of the same material. Peter Crompton’s stage design has a series of frankly fake props and banners  moving around at appropriate moments. To see the banners rise on four corners to delineate the stage was just as exciting as the growth of the tree.

Foehringer still manages to make the most of the shallow stage.  The steep angle of the seating allows the audience to see everything clearly; the cast of characters must engage their audience with little of the usual proscenium’s aesthetic distance.

This year Foehringer also enjoyed a stronger cast; as a result he started to tweak the stage business and characters with excellent effect.  Brian Fisher continues as Drosselmeyer, but the magical toy maker has several strong confrontations with his nephew, Chad Dawson, and a substantial share of tussles; the mice hoisting Clara, Norma Fong,  might be accused of sexual harassment. But everything trips along so fast there is no opportunity to file a report, particularly when Juan de la Rosa jumps from the mask of the Mice King to Father Tanenbaum and then into trepak garb.

Four little tots play soldiers with metallic helmets and Candyland goodies with
swirly cream topping cup cakes on their heads.  Adding to the double duty
roster was Lizanne Roman as Mme Tanenbaum and Mother Ginger, Thomas Woodman as the postman pushing the mouse package out the door.  The alternating notices are slightly confusing, but Fisher wound up faking Spanish style with either Melanie Hawkes or Deanna Woodman.

Norma Fong made a fetching Clara, her correct port de bra reaching down her nicely formed arms to her finger tips, slightly petulant, but equally willing to be
lead.  Chad Dawson provided mischief and an ardent support at appropriate moments.

But Fisher as Drosselmeyer provided the production’s ultimate dash with his
elan, his willingness to buffeted by the mice, his eloquent politesse of gesture,
energetic rendition of pirouettes and jetes and his reaction in each twist of
the tale.

It all makes for a mid-town Nut hard to crack, plus the lively little orchestral
ensemble, and Morgan’s adroit condensation of the Tchaikovsky score. Now if Drosselmeyer could lend his expertise by increasing the stage depth by, say, ten feet, WOW.

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