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Handmade Production Is Happily Off Its 'Nutcracker'

December 19, 1987|CORINNE FLOCKEN

Hang on to your toe shoes. Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church is presenting an off-the-wall adaptation of "The Nutcracker" that should have Tchaikovsky spinning in his grave and ballet purists leaping for cover. As for the rest of us, hey, it could be an evening of homespun fun.

Adapted and directed by Miekue (pronounced Mike) Weinstein, the show is being presented one night only--tonight--and features a cast of 70--yes, 70--church members ranging in age from 5 to 83. There is no ballet, no classic Tchaikovsky score (with the exception of Dwight Fellman's computerized version of "Dance of the Reed Pipes") and a bare minimum of pomp and circumstance. Instead, "A New Nutcracker" promises to be a raucous holiday party that knocks the cobwebs off A. T. Hoffman's romantic fantasy with jazzy Christmas carols, Broadway show tunes and a little classic rock and roll.

Rest assured, "A New Nutcracker" has no aspirations to rival "The Glory of Christmas," the Crystal Cathedral extravaganza, which has live animals and flying angels. This is strictly an amateur production that replaces slick staging and professional actors with homemade props and costumes and an enthusiastic, if less than polished, cast of churchgoers.

Weinstein, who is choir director for the Costa Mesa church, said "A New Nutcracker" retains the basic elements of Hoffman's story that have charmed audiences for more than a century, including Clara (played by Erika Leeman), a young girl who sighs for handsome princes and magic kingdoms; her adoring but mysterious godfather (Ben Stewart), and, of course, the Nutcracker, transformed for one mystical night into the man of Clara's dreams (James Coomes). But that's where the similarity ends.

"I'm lucky to have a church that cooperates with my madness," Weinstein, a former community theater director and past officer of the Southern California Educational Theatre Assn., said with a laugh.

Weinstein has staged mainstream productions but decided this year to try something a little more innovative that could involve a large cast. After considerable rewriting and a healthy dose of artistic license, "A New Nutcracker" was born.

"It's going to be a very fun show, but it's not professional by a long shot," she said with a grin. "Be prepared; we're talking church basement theater here!"

What the production lacks in professionalism, the script makes up in imagination. Weinstein described one fairy-tale sequence so silly and unpredictable it would make Monty Python proud.

"I've made (Hoffman's) mice into 'Pi-rats,' " played by a motley crew of young boys in pirate costumes and rat ears, Weinstein said. "The Pi-rat queen--she's sort of faded burlesque star--sings 'Let Me Entertain You' . . . then suddenly casts a spell on the baby princess, who grows up to be as ugly as sin and very nasty.

"Her parents try to marry her off, so they call in a few wise persons to advise them. This being a Unitarian group, the wise people decide to take a survey and go rushing out into the audience with clipboards to see what should be done. The godfather jumps in and tells them they need a Ho-Ha-Haney nut, so the wise persons rush through the audience looking for it, and the whole thing turns into this kind of game-show thing."

You get the idea. Without giving away too much of the story, the magical nut is found and can only be cracked by, you guessed it, the Nutcracker prince, and from there "A New Nutcracker" eventually returns to Hoffman's basic story. Well, sort of.

Clara and the Nutcracker do fall in love and journey to his magic kingdom, but instead of beautiful nymphs, they're met by 5-year-old flower fairies and 250-pound snowmen dancing to "Jingle Bell Rock."

But enough said. "A New Nutcracker" probably isn't going to be next year's smash Broadway hit, but it just might provide a few holiday fuzzies and enough ho-ho-hos to get you through those last-minute yuletide blues.

"A New Nutcracker," adapted and directed by Miekue Weinstein, will be performed at Orange Coast Unitarian Universalist Church, 1259 Victoria St . , Costa Mesa, tonight at 7:30. Availability of tickets limited; $3 for adults and children. For information, call (714) 786-0325 or (714) 646-4652.

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