Featured Review: The Nutcracker Here's something different: a talking Nutcracker. Ever since Tchaikovsky set music to E.T.A. Hoffmann's 1816 fantasy about Maria (whose name is usually changed to Clara in ballet productions) and her close encounter of the third kind with a prince who is imprisoned in a nutcracker, the story has pretty much lost its ability to speak. Without sacrificing some of Tchaikovsky's most familiar themes, yet at the same time reducing them from entrées to appetizers, playwright Sarah Brandt and composer Neal Richardson have adapted the story for the Rep's touring Imaginary Theatre Company. Scott Loebl's set design is simple yet creative, and Ellen Isom's choreography lends a sense of fluidity to simple gestures. At the performance I attended last weekend at First Presbyterian Church in Kirkwood, the mostly youthful audience was attentive and involved, thanks especially to Ann Ashby, whose Maria drives the story forward in an energetic yet not condescending manner. Performed December 18 (sold out), 20 and 21 at the Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall High School, 530 East Lockwood Avenue, Webster Groves. Tickets are $6. Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org.Dennis Brown
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