Pleasanton Weekly

Arts & Entertainment - November 25, 2011

On stage for the holidays

Special productions delight audiences with Christmas cheer

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

The holiday spirit is taking to local stages, from a traditional "Nutcracker" to a fun-loving "Sleeping Beauty" and "Nunsense Christmas." Join in a sing-along after a performance by the Valley Concert Choral and don't forget holiday songs played by our own Pleasanton Community Concert Band, a fun afternoon of music usually attended by a visitor from the North Pole.

Pleasanton's Civic Arts Stage Company will present "Sleeping Beauty" from Dec. 9-18 at the Amador Theater, performing the classic fairy tale in the lighthearted British "panto" style with music, dance and magic.

"Every year, our holiday panto inspires kids to dance in the aisles, and often those same kids come back and audition the next year," said Director Rebecca Ennals. "We're starting to create a real holiday tradition for these kids and parents, one that is unique to Pleasanton."

This version of the story carries the messages that beauty comes from within and that parents need to allow their children some freedom, Ennals said. Princess Beauty is given beauty and brains at birth, but not manners, since the fairy responsible for dispensing manners must use her gift to counteract the spell of the evil Belladonna.

The cast's professional actors are joined by the largest Civic Arts Stage Company cast to date, with returning members and newcomers. Jennifer Meredith, who played Cinderella in 2009, returns as Beauty, sharing the role with Lacey Smith.

It will be the Valley Dance Theatre's fourth decade presenting Tchaikovsky's classic, "The Nutcracker." The full-length production features professionally designed costumes, sets and scenery and is accompanied by the Livermore-Amador Symphony pit orchestra.

Some performances will include pre-show festivities including carols by the Cantabella Children's Chorus and Harmony Fusion. The Asbury Ringers will be ringing their handbells in the theater lobby Dec. 16, 17 and 18.

This year "The Nutcracker" role of the Cavalier is danced by Ted Newman, a 19-year-old Pleasanton resident, who majors in computer programming at Las Positas College.

"I have a musical background and play several instruments, but opted to try out for color guard rather than play drums in the marching band at Amador Valley High School," Newman said, recalling his journey to the stage of ballet. "Color guard is influenced greatly by dance and my positive experience with it my senior year led to dance lessons and then to participating on competitive dance teams. One of those, a jazz team, required ballet classes and I found I really liked them. Last year, a friend told me about auditions for male roles in 'The Nutcracker' and here I am."

Newman said that studying ballet has made him stronger and more physically fit, but that is not the primary benefit.

"Since I started dancing, I've been able to concentrate more on school and work and I've been more relaxed at home," he said. "I've also developed a new circle of friends full of wonderful people."

For lighthearted holiday fare, join the singing nuns and Father Virgil and some of Mt. Saint Helen's most talented students as they tape their first Christmas special in their convent basement in "Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical." It features all new songs including "Twelve Days Prior to Christmas," "Santa Ain't Comin' To Our House," and a humorous take on Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker."

"Nuncrackers will make you laugh and maybe tug at your heartstrings," according to the Tri-Valley Repertory Theatre all volunteer group. "It's the perfect way to ensure your holiday season is merry and bright."

Valley Concert Chorale is presenting this year's holiday concert with the Las Positas College Chamber Choir and the Cantabella Children's Chorus, with guest harpist Daniel Levitan.

"Fun, light and joyful music of carols is what we'll offer audiences to kick off the holiday season," said John Emory Bush, artistic director of the Valley Concert Chorale.

The women of the Chorale and the Chamber Choir will join together to sing Rutter's "Dancing Day," accompanied by well-known Bay Area harpist Dan Levitan. Bush, himself a harpist, noted that the harp part is extremely difficult.

"I needed the very best and Dan is the best I know," Bush said. "Dan is an incredible, virtuosic harpist and a great collaborator."

Levitan will also accompany the Cantabella Children's Chorus as they perform selections from Britten's "Ceremony of Carols," under the direction of Eileen Chang. Additional songs include "Carol of the Bells" and "Deck the Halls."

The performance will culminate with the traditional audience sing-along of carols.

"It's obvious that the audience is getting in the spirit of the season as we sing the carols. You can see it in their faces and makes the experience extra special for us singers," said Chorale Board President Dave Brunswick.

See a complete listing of holiday performances on page 16.

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