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The Pecan Cracker 

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Modern Christmas is haunted by the 19th Century: Ebenezer Scrooge and The Nutcracker take over stages. But locally, a vibrant troupe created a comic version based on Tchaikovsky's classic and E.T.A. Hoffmann's original story. The story is set in City Park, updated to 1965, and irreverent nuttiness rules the day.

  Fans of the multitalented Ricky Graham will be pleased with his latest offering, which he directed and co-wrote with Sean Patterson and Mandy Zirkenbach.

  A narrator (Yvette Hargis) recites the tale of young Mary-Clare (Katherine Hebert), who begins the play as a brat and gradually reforms though the magic of The Pecan Cracker (Gary Rucker). On Christmas Eve, Mary-Clare receives the small, wooden Pecan Cracker as a present, and she throws a tantrum and slams it to the ground.

  A magical human-sized incarnation of The Pecan Cracker appears in Mary-Clare's dreams, but he has trouble with his jaw as a result of her rough treatment. Although he finds her sulkiness trying, he's determined to cure her of it. He comes to her rescue with a spray can of insecticide when she's beset by the roach brigade (Brian Falgoust, Patrick Mendelson, Heidi Junius and Zirkenbach). The same group ably sings and dances under different guises in most of the show's 17 numbers, choreographed by Zirkenbach. The knock-about ensemble wears funny and imaginative costumes created by Cecile Casey Covert.

  Jefferson Turner arranged the show's catchy tunes and accompanies them on the keyboard, assisted by Brian Albus on drums. Some the songs are updated Tchaikovsky pieces and others are originals.

  In his attempt to sweeten Mary-Clare's disposition, the Pecan Cracker transports her to The Land of Sweets in City Park where she meets the Buttermilk Drop Fairy, the Rum Ball and the Petit Four among other delightful delicacies. Things get threatening with the appearance of The Gautreaux Gator Family, but the reptiles are only having fun.

  Some of the jokes are deliberately corny and saved by a quick rim shot on the snare drum: "I gotta make like a banana and split." Ta-dum! But the show is marked by high spirits and zesty performances that both kids and adults will enjoy. — Dalt Wonk

Thru Dec. 23

The Pecan Cracker

7:30 p.m. Thu.-Sat., 3 p.m. Sun.

Southern Rep, The Shops at Canal Place, 365 Canal St., 522-6545;

Tickets $20-$25

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