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LIGHTNING REVIEW: Chase Brock's 'Nutcracker' is new and fun

Chase Brock directs the professional dance company during a rehearsal for 'The Nutcracker' Chase Brock directs the professional dance company during a rehearsal for 'The Nutcracker'

I think it's safe to say that no other regional theater in America would be lucky enough to stage a version of the classic ballet "The Nutcracker" adapted to its own town.

That's what happened, though, in Flat Rock, where the Playhouse opened Chase Brock's fun, contemporary and visually stunning version of the Christmas fantasy. A relatively small but appreciative audience enjoyed a preview show Friday night. The official opening is Saturday night; the show runs through Dec. 22.
Brock, the Flat Rock native and former West Henderson student who got his start in the YouTheatre at the age of 6 and went on to become a leading Broadway choreographer, describes in the director's notes the platform for his creation.
"Fascinated by the unusual opportunity to create a 'Nutcracker' for a theater company instead of for a ballet company, I was determined that my adaptation would — without the use of language — be highly narrative and character-driven, and that I'd employ a wide range of dance techniques, action and even puppetry in the service of our physical storytelling."
In adapting both E.T.A. Hoffman's "Nutcracker and the Mouse King" and Tchaikovsky's ballet, Brock said, he wanted to preserve the iconic elements of each — a young heroine, a holiday party, a mysterious toymaker, a Nutcracker and a Sugar Plum Fairy — yet "deploy those elements in fresh ways." Mission accomplished. It's unlike the large-scale ballet the patron might be expecting.
To make this show Brock enlisted his husband and creative partner Rob Berman, an Emmy Award winning music director of stage and television; Tony Award winning costume designer Ann Hould-Ward, and Flat Rock Playhouse set designer Dennis Maulden, "whose smart and sumptuous work I have been admiring on the Flat Rock stage since my youth."
Brock brought in 12 performers from his own dance company, the Chase Brock Experience, and from other Broadway companies.
For all the nationally renowned star power, it is comforting to see the proscenium that features Maulden's depictions of familiar buildings in Hendersonville's streetscape and to read the setting: "In and around a second floor apartment on a street like Main Street, in a town like Hendersonville, nestled in the mountain like the Blue Ridge Mountains."
If you're unfamiliar with the Nutcracker story or even if you know it well, I highly recommend a close reading of the full-page synopsis on Page 26 of the playbill before the show starts. The dance and the music are entertaining and beautiful to look at, and the sets transform the stage into a visual wonder. Brock has helpfully provided a guide that helps the patron match the story with the movement on stage.
Brock's Marie, played by 2012 Julliard graduate Macy Sullivan, is a teenage girl who lives with her parents above their art gallery on a Main Street like our own. At a Christmas party, a young protégé of her father's arrives with three magical gifts for Marie, including the elaborately carved Nutcracker.
Marie's companion is her pet mouse Snow, who conspires with her throughout the fantasy and proves to be a worthy friend and collaborator. Snow is played with humor and emotion throughout by Gerald Avery ("Spider-man: Turn off the Dark," Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the David Letterman Show).
Credit goes to Berman, the conductor and piano player, and music coordinator George Wilkins Jr. for getting so much music out of just 10 instruments.
Act I goes by in 47 minutes and the entire show comes in at an economical one hour and forty minutes, short enough to keep youngsters entertained. The young folks I saw in the seats Friday night sat still and followed the show with enjoyment, which is to say no fidgeting and fussing. I recommend the show for the young ones; there are plenty of matinees between now and Dec. 22.

* * *
News this week of a $100,000 challenge grant and other gains in the fundraising blitz seem to indicate that we may have inched back from the Playhouse's own fiscal cliff. But as Playhouse administrators and supporters have been saying for several weeks, this last dash to New Year's Eve is critical in terms of box office sales. Dennis Maulden noted when I saw him during intermission, season ticket sales make up the critical revenue needed to prop up the organization until spring. Nothing is more important right now than consumer confidence.
It's one of the many ironies of this fall's real-life Playhouse drama that a show as daring and as innovative as Chase Brock's "Nutcracker" would be staged in the critical final act. No one would try to make this stuff up.
A YouTheatre alumni and Henderson County native makes it big on Broadway. He comes home to help save the theater that gave him his start, collaborating, as he says, with "the wonderful resident and guest artists, precocious YouTheatre students, artisans and staff here on the Rock." He attempts to do this with a work of pure dance theater, something that's never been done in the history of the Playhouse and which may yet again raise the eyebrow of skepticism among the tradition-bound Playhouse patron.
It's another fascinating twist in the implausible story of a small town in the Blue Ridge Mountains that faced the possible demise of a beloved institution and rose up to ... well ... we don't know. That's the end of the story, isn't it?