NEW YORK — A steampunk Nutcracker with wholesome messages is a welcome addition for family-friendly holiday fun in New York City.
"The Nutcracker and the Mouse King," a heartwarming, homespun musical presented by Pipe Dream theatre, opened Saturday night for a brief run off-Broadway at the Beckett Theatre/Theatre Row.
Music and book are by Collin Simon and lyrics are by Liz Muller, who also directs imaginatively and portrays the rebel Mouse Queen with comic dignity. The sprightly 90-minute production puts a slightly dark yet good-humored twist on E.T.A. Hoffmann's classic story. The talented, ethusiastic cast includes high-school and college students majoring in theater arts.
Young Clara Marie (a sweetly brave enactment by Amanda Teneriello) is a misfit to her unkind cruel relatives, but her loving godfather, Armand, (well-voiced by Alex Parrish) gives her a Nutcracker doll for Christmas that changes everything. Magically, she travels to the Nutcracker's underground world, Colossus, which is full of human-size mice, some naughty and some nice.
The steampunk theme (science fiction from the steam age, reimagined through cyberpunk) is well-suited to the dystopian situation in Colossus, where the tyrannical Mouse King starves the populace and re-engineers discarded dolls into an evil army.
This low-budget musical is full of fun, as comical battles for dominance ensue in whimsically-staged scenes. Simon provides a variety of tuneful songs, including an inspiring duet "Believe" sung by Teneriello and Parrish, and "March of the Toy Soldiers," a rallying cry for the good guys with the refrain, "I will stand here by your side as your friend."
Standouts include Jillian Moran and Kate Murphy as a wryly inept duo of bad mice. Daniel J. McCormick is quite funny as Havarti, the slothful Mouse King, whose inevitable undoing comes via a stupendous, well-choreographed sword-fight. Clara Marie's wish that people do good every day and not just on holidays is useful advice any time of year.