Review by Nan Lincoln
MOUNT DESERT — Once again, the Acadia Community Theater has delivered the big “awww” moment of the season.
This year’s Christmas play, “The Nutcracker,” which opened last weekend at the Neighborhood House in Northeast Harbor and moves to the Criterion in Bar Harbor this weekend, had everything it needed to get audiences in the right holiday spirit: adorable kids, cute costumes, sweet music, enthusiasm and, praise be, brevity.
The play, rather loosely based on the Tchaikovsky ballet, involves Marie (sweetly played by Lillian Swan), a little girl who has a dreamland adventure with her toy nutcracker (Molly Dillon), red-coated soldiers, squeaky combative mice, a beautiful princess (Claire Sanner), a deliciously wicked queen rodent and some wicked cute sugar plum fairies.
Several of the cast members are natural performers who understand intuitively how to inhabit their roles. Topping that list is Jack McKenna, who plays Marie’s bratty brother Fritz. Not only did he deliver his lines with gusto and perfect enunciation, and sing on key with good strong voice, but he stole every scene he was in with his hyperactive body language and hilarious expressions. As the toy cat, Zoe Boland made a fine feline and a good mouse catcher who also can belt out a tune. And speaking of mice, mouse queen Lelania Avila channeling her inner Cruella De Vil was wonderfully wicked and fun to watch. Kudos go to costume designer Patti Savoie here for this especially excellent outfit and to whoever made the queen’s magnificent mouse-ear crown. More kudos go to Valerie Wallace for the impressive nutcracker mask.
Other standouts were Julie Creed for her dumber and dumber turn as the zoned-out Sweet Tooth, Faye Durand-McDonnell as the shepherdess doll, Clara, and Finn Hansbury, who made a very convincing Rudi, the cowardly mouse.
The adults did a fine job too, with Mark Carignan bringing his robust baritone to his role as Godfather Drosselmeier. Tony St. Denis once again convincingly played his dear old dad role, and it was hard to take one’s eyes off Mallory Watkins, as his wife, who looked like a lovely 18th-century cameo come to life.
Mount Desert Island High School student Jacob Sanner directed this show as his senior project. He should be commended for getting his young actors to project their voices and to stay in character even when they weren’t in the spotlight, not to mention moving his large cast around the stage (including battle scenes!) without any pileups.
There were a few static blocking moments with characters all lined up in a neat row to sing or deliver their lines. All of the youngsters knew their lines and cues, and most important of all, they all looked as though they were having great fun, which made it fun to watch.
Sanner also did a terrific job with a limited budget on his set design – the second act Toyland reveal was enchanting and sparkly.
Accompanist Christina Spurling, playing a clavichord, set just the right tone for this much-loved musical. One rather wished the overtures lasted longer.
The “Nutcracker” moves to the Criterion, Friday, Dec. 9, at 7 p.m. and Saturday, Dec. 10, at 11 a.m.