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Holiday high jinks on stage

DALLAS -- "The Nutcracker" is a popular Christmastime tradition, to be sure. But it is a coincidence that Dallas will have two versions of the holiday classic offered within a week of each other.

The nutcracker, played by Paul Disney, does battle with the Mouse King (Andrei Zamudio), left, as flowers watch

Photo by Pete Strong

The nutcracker, played by Paul Disney, does battle with the Mouse King (Andrei Zamudio), left, as flowers watch

December 11, 2012

DALLAS -- "The Nutcracker" is a popular Christmastime tradition, to be sure. But it is a coincidence that Dallas will have two versions of the holiday classic offered within a week of each other.

The two productions are vastly different -- although they will share the same stage and set at Dallas High School's Bollman Auditorium.

Last weekend, Dallas Ballet & Academy of Dance staged the classic ballet version, with some of its own choreography.

This Saturday, Dallas High School will offer two afternoon performances of a spoken-word version of the story geared toward younger audiences that features 15 performers from Dallas' Young Artists Playtrium.

Blair Cromwell, Dallas High's theater instructor, said after last year's youth outreach play, "Bocon!," she wanted to take a different direction with this year's production.

"Bocon!" is a contemporary story about a boy from Central Latin America who embarks on a harrowing journey to the United States.

"'Bocon!' asked questions on a lot of contemporary topics, so we wanted to do something that was really standard and really fanciful to support the viewing interest of our elementary students," Cromwell said.

A timely gift -- a huge mural of a nutcracker hanging on the left side of the stage -- a local family donated to the theater department a year ago helped narrow down the options.

Clara, center, played by Selena Harris, is surrounded by menacing mice Krystal Micek, Holly Siegrist, Ashley Hinchcliff and Jessie Beasley, left to right.

Photo by Pete Strong

Clara, center, played by Selena Harris, is surrounded by menacing mice Krystal Micek, Holly Siegrist, Ashley Hinchcliff and Jessie Beasley, left to right.

"I thought `OK, this is really cool,'" she said. "We are going to store this for a year and we will build a play around this gift."

In DHS's "The Nutcracker," dancing for the most part is replaced with dialogue in a fast-paced and humorous take on the ballet's plot. The play tells the story of a prince trapped in the form of a nutcracker; the Mouse King, who tries to steal the prince's crown and kingdom; and the girl, Clara, who tries to help restore the prince to his rightful place -- with all this happening between the stroke of midnight and dawn one Christmas morning.

The cast will perform the play several times this week for area elementary school classes, but Saturday's shows are open to the public.

Saturday's performances are fundraisers for Young Artists Playtrium, an effort launched last spring to offer elementary and middle school-aged students a chance to explore performing arts.

Cromwell noted that in the past Dallas elementary schools would put together plays, but funding for programs supporting those productions has diminished.

Young Artists Playtrium, organized by Cromwell and Slade Thackeray, a director in Dallas' choir program, seeks to fill the void, leading workshops and camps -- and offering children a chance to perform alongside older students in productions like "The Nutcracker."

"We know as artists that this is what some students are good at," Cromwell said, adding they should have an opportunity at a young age to explore those talents.

Selena Harris, a sophomore who plays Clara, is excited for this week's shows because the beginning of her love of theater can be traced back to seeing another classic story, "Peter Pan," at a young age.

"It was one of the highlights of my childhood, going to see 'Peter Pan,'" she said. "I guess I hope that the kids in the audience have the same experience -- that it's as magical for them as 'Peter Pan' was for me."

Cromwell said with a surprising amount of families asking about tuition scholarships before last summer's Playtrium camp, she wants Saturday's shows to raise enough funding to provide more children with performing arts experience.

Andrei Zamudio, who plays the outrageous Mouse King, has another goal in mind. He's enjoyed working with children in Playtrium because participating in theater has helped him develop confidence.

"I know my brother is shy, and I used to be like that," he said. "If he can come, maybe he can see what this is all about and hopefully appreciate it."

Showtime!

What: "The Nutcracker."

When: Saturday, 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.

Where: Bollman Auditorium, Dallas High School, 1250 SE Holman Ave., Dallas.

Admission: $3 for adults; $2 for children and students.

Of note: Both shows are fundraisers for Young Artists Playtrium.

For more information: 503-623-8336.