When I last endured a very late start (relative to the advertised start time), my patience was at least rewarded with a sterling performance. Nutcracker! The Musical, I am very sorry to report, did not impress.
There is rather too much spoken dialogue for a musical. The musical numbers range from being an excuse for a song and dance to being so wordy that most of the lyrics are indecipherable. I liked the attempt at taking after Stephen Sondheim (assuming that was the intention), but there is such a thing as having to rattle through lines so fast there is no way an audience can possibly understand it all. Far from perfect acoustics did not help – even when speaking or singing at a more civilised pace, certain characters could not be heard very well.
There may have been some humorous lines in there somewhere, but they passed me by, and the ones that I did understand mostly failed to raise even a titter from me. Mouseyrinks (Jamie Birkett), in the closest thing this production comes to a showstopping number, ‘Mouseyrinks’ Lament’, fully held my attention, in what seemed to be a parody of some very long onstage deaths in some other shows, insofar as certain characters manage to hang in there until the end of the song they’re singing. But even here, what would have been a perfect final big note is ruined by shrill shrieking, something of a running gag in this show. And another thing: is puppetry really puppetry if the puppet doesn’t move at all, even slightly?
The narrative, then, goes from breakneck speed to a near standstill, before going, to borrow a phrase from enthusiasts of automobiles, from 0 to 60 in a matter of seconds. There’s variation, for sure, but it’s very exhausting, particularly when, as I say, not all the punchlines land as punchlines should, even with this unassuming audience. With this amount of repetition upon repetition, I eventually found myself very bored. Worst of all was a song called ‘Be Practical’, which mostly involved Dr Stahlbaum (Ann Marcuson) and her husband Mr Stahlbaum (Henry Wryley-Birch) reiterate the song title dozens of times. It would have been just about bearable if only they had stuck to their own advice and not – impractically – kept singing the same phrase without ever bothering to explain precisely what they meant.
Blowing a trumpet for about five seconds to herald a royal proclamation before turning to the audience, beaming, is a cheap way of soliciting applause in an era when the actor-musician is increasingly commonplace. I am all for casts enjoying themselves on stage, but I wonder if there’s too much of a good time going on here. The forces of evil didn’t come across as very evil at all – the aforementioned Mouseyrinks, officially chief antagonist, was, by the show’s end, the most likeable character of the lot.
I suppose I shouldn’t be so harsh on a production that chooses not to simplistically and crudely define ‘good’ and ‘bad’. But not even the retention of the famous music of the ‘Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy’ fully redeems a pedestrian show. It’s telling when people in the audience are humming Tchaikovsky’s music on their way out, but not reprising any lyrics from this musical adaptation.
Except perhaps for one. The (slightly preachy) message given at the end of both acts is endearing, “Nothing’s impossible in your imagination.” Ultimately, though, that lyric inadvertently exposes the show’s deficiencies. With a little more, um, imagination, this is an adaptation that could have been so much better. There are some nice costumes, however, and some heart-warming performances from Maria Coyne as ‘Marie’ and ‘Princess Pirlipat’, and Peter Nash as ‘Christian Elias, the Nutcracker Prince’.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Nutcracker! The Musical is a story of magic, far away places, fairy tale kingdoms, of love, friendship, family and most importantly imagination. With a modern musical score influenced by Tchaikovsky’s famous ballet, this fresh new look at the original Nutcracker story will enchant audiences of all ages.
Teenage Marie is too old to play with dolls but there’s something intriguing about the nutcracker given to her by her old Uncle Drosselmier. He seems lost in time. Long ago in the fairy tale kingdom of Chronenburg, the beautiful Princess Pirlipat has been magically disfigured by the evil Mouseyrinks, Queen of the Mice. King Wilhelm enlists the help of the mystical Royal Clockmaker to break the curse. Will a little magic and a lot of imagination be enough to discover the secret of the nutcracker and rescue the people of Chronenburg from the clutches of Mouseyrinks’ spell?
Nutcracker! The Musical is written by multiple Emmy Award-winner Nancy Holson, with orchestration by Bruce Kiesling and Paul Rigano and directed by Ollie Fielding.
Nutcracker! The Musical
9th December 2015 – 3rd January 2016
Main House – Pleasance London
Carpenters Mews, North Rd
London, N7 9E