Holiday theater favorites take the stage

December 04, 2003|by KATE COLEMAN

It's that time again. Thanks has been given, and leftovers eaten. December is here and along with it, lights, celebrations and long-standing holiday traditions.

Among them are "A Christmas Carol," Charles Dickens' story of the miserly and miserable old man who is redeemed, and "The Nutcracker," the Christmas-fantasy ballet set to the glorious music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

"To say it's a tradition is an understatement," says Susie Miller, spokeswoman for Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick, Md. This is the 24th annual presentation of the ballet at the downtown Frederick, Md., theater - this year on Friday, Dec. 12, through Sunday, Dec. 14. The Maryland Regional Ballet's production will feature students from Frederick School of Classical Ballet as well as guest artists Peter Boal and Miranda Weese, principal dancers with the New York City Ballet, and Alexander Ritter, soloist with the Suzanne Farrell Ballet, a project of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C.


There are other "Nutcrackers" in the Tri-State area.

The Hagerstown Ballet, in concert with the West Virginia Youth Ballet in Martinsburg, W.Va., will present "The Nutcracker" this weekend and next at the Antietam Ballet Theatre in Sharpsburg. This year marks the 21st rendering of the holiday classic choreographed by Carolou Russell and danced by her students. "We've just passed our 100th

production," says Ray Russell, Carolou Russell's husband and partner. The cast includes about 100 dancers, all trained by Carolou Russell.

Although the "Nutcracker" is a time-honored tradition for the Hagerstown and Martinsburg ballet schools, the production and its dancers are different each year.

About 50 local dance students of Ballet & All That Jazz will dance in the Moscow Ballet's production, "The Great Russian Nutcracker," at The Maryland Theatre Monday, Dec. 22.

Ranelle Flurie, herself a former student of Carolou Russell, directs Ballet & All That Jazz in Hagerstown. She has served as rehearsal mistress for students chosen in October auditions conducted by the Moscow Ballet's Svetlana Todinova.

Potomac Classical Youth Ballet Company will present "The Nutcracker" this weekend at The Maryland Theatre. Director Lauran Clowser presented her first "Nutcracker" ballet in 1981. She started planning this weekend's performances last January.

Why does she keep scheduling the ballet year after year?

"It's something that you do at Christmastime. It's so child-oriented. It creates the perfect Christmas," Clowser says.

It's visions of sugarplums, for goodness sake.

And for Clowser, seeing the joy and enthusiasm in the kids' faces makes it worthwhile, despite all the hard work involved.

The PCYB has become a community event of sorts. Attendees are asked to bring a nonperishable food item to be donated to local food banks. Tickets are made available for kids from local youth organizations. The ballet's party scene is danced and acted by local citizens, and even a dog will get into the act. Rusty, a Corgi mix, will make his "Nutcracker" debut.

Tim after Tim

There also are several area versions of the classic Dickens tale.

"A Christmas Carol" is part of Steve Anderson's one-man performance that is integrated into a walking tour of historic downtown Gettysburg.

An original adaptation of "A Christmas Carol" is one of several holiday offerings of Maryland Ensemble Theatre in Frederick. MET, along with its children's division, The Fun Company, will use puppets and special effects in its production.

You can eat dinner and see the Washington County Playhouse version of the story in "Scrooge, The Stingiest Man in Town" in downtown Hagerstown.

The Apollo Civic Theatre's production in Martinsburg, W.Va., will open Friday, Dec. 5. There will be two weekends of "A Christmas Carol," directed by Hubert Rolling, who also plays the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.

Rolling, who says he's very fond of the play, has portrayed the grumpy - "but not mean," he says - old man before.

This version of Charles Dickens' beloved tale features the music of Leslie Bricusse, a cast of 36 and the smallest and youngest Tiny Tim Rolling has known.

The Apollo Theatre company will perform a matinee just for school children. More than 500 students are expected. Teachers are happy to introduce pupils to a classic, Rolling says.

"Bah, humbug," you say?

Not so fast, says Rolling.

The Dickens legend offers a valuable lesson. "The key to the future is our past," Rolling says.

Old Scrooge learns and changes. That's something people like to identify with.

"I think everyone likes to feel they can be better in life," Rolling explains.

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