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By John Quinn
The Nutcracker's Nuts – VULGARITY at Christmas!
Thank you. Now that I have your attention, class, let's parse that show title. "Nutcracker's" is not possessive; it's a contraction. The synonym for "nuts" is "deranged." Now that your mind is out of the gutter, we may proceed. Our scene opens at a meeting of the Residents' Council of Simon's Rest, a retirement community in Frankfort, Michigan. For years the committee has relied on an annual performance of A Christmas Carol as a holiday fundraiser, but the recent death of one of their own has dampened enthusiasm. When shy Minnie Winchester suggests shaking things up by producing The Nutcracker instead, the idea is a hit. It's not until the first rehearsal, though, that her five colleagues discover that they've committed themselves to perform a ballet. Just the thought of dancing in public with creaky knees and bad backs lead Malcolm (Stan Newman) to shout, "The Nutcracker's nuts!"
Broadway Onstage in Eastpointe is staging Dennis Wickline's quirky little comedy for a 10th holiday season. The first act defines the personalities of our stalwart crew; the second is "show time" for a sold-out audience. While the cast members are nowhere near the ages of their characters, they still manage to pull off earnest readings of cranky, crusty senior citizens. Think of it as A Charlie Brown Christmas for septuagenarians.
Along with the above-mentioned Mr. Newman, the cast includes Olivia Wickline, Shirley Biggs-Urkshus, Jann Hight, Dennis Wickline and Donna Disante. As Minnie, Disante is a driving force of the plot. A retired piano teacher, she was relegated to musical accompaniment for countless performances of The Nutcracker but never realized her dream of dancing the lead, "Clara." She embodies the theme of the show, "Grab on to the life we have left."
The humor here is very broad, at times almost slapstick. This is probably your only chance to see Tchaikovsky performed with walkers. And yet through all their silliness, intentional backstage noise, the missed entrances and amateur costumes, we get the sense that art is imitating life; if we actually WERE in a senior citizens center instead of Broadway Onstage, their show would look a lot like this. Even though the line delivery is still a bit rough, The Nutcracker's Nuts is an engaging evening of theater. I felt a presence of The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.
Broadway Onstage Live Theatre, 21517 Kelly Rd., Eastpointe. Friday-Sunday through Dec. 18. Tickets: $16. For information: 586-771-6333 or www.broadwayonstage.com.
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