“Nutcracker: The Musical” — a new spin on the classic

By Sarah Ross
UNC co-editor
The Durham VOICE

Tchaikovsky and Michael Jackson are two names rarely, if ever, used in the same sentence. Until “Nutcracker: The Musical” came to town, that is.

Not to be confused with the classic ballet, this modern-day Nutcracker is the brainchild of Wanona Satcher, an architect originally from Atlanta who moved to the area two years ago. The twist: the ballet is given a 1980s makeover–legwarmers and all.

Performers in “Nutcracker: The Musical” practice at Walltown Children’s Theater for the upcoming, 1980s-themed show, clockwise from front: Bernadine Fields, Ebony Wilson, Danika Manso-Brown, Kirasten Brasfield, Kayla Roscoe and Lauren Brennan. (Photos by Wanona Satcher)

“It’s a creative adaptation to the classic,” said Satcher.

The musical will be held Saturday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 12, at 3 p.m. Both performances will be in the Holton Auditorium inside the Holton Career and Resource Center on Driver Street. Tickets can be purchased in advance through Eventbrite. They will be sold at the door as well if seats remain. The musical will also serve as a celebration of Walltown Children’s Theater’s 10th anniversary.

Satcher said the idea came to her while driving through town this summer, when she says she was lucky enough to be pointed in the direction of Walltown Children’s Theater for a local partnership.

Through collaboration with co-director of the theater Cynthia Penn, the musical ballet has finally come to life. Penn is the lead choreographer and creative director for the performance. She and Satcher joined together to write the musical.

“Cynthia is so open to ideas,” Satcher said. “All artists aren’t like that. She’s fantastic at what she does.”

The performance features 60 kids, ages 5 to 18, from around Durham. The choreographers are local college students. Satcher says she planned from the start to keep Durham as the center of the musical.

“We could have easily gone to Duke or UNC [for the performers],” said Satcher, “but we wanted something that was community based, community focused and community led.”

She said believes this is the perfect Nutcracker for Durham because of its diverse nature and how that ties in with the diversity of the city as a whole. The play will feature dancing styles from many different cultures, keeping the ballet, but incorporating capoeira, salsa, hip-hop and Bollywood.

“A lot of communities are like this and have so many strengths that have not even been tapped into,” said Satcher. “There are so many talented artists here that it blows me away.”

A group of performers in the upcoming “Nutcracker: The Musical” sits outside of Walltown Children’s Theater after practice. Clockwise fromBoy Jean Christian Barry (in black T-shirt), Ben Sempowski, Julia Sempowski, Caitlin Holloway, Artemisa Gomez and Teemer Barry. (Photo courtesy of Walltown Children's Theatre)

The musical will be broken into two acts. The first follows a young girl in her dream of playing the role of Clara in the Nutcracker. She must overcome obstacles to reach her goal, a theme that Satcher says is all about perseverance. Act one shapes the plot for act two, which is a rendition of the actual Nutcracker ballet.

“We knew we needed to have some sort of semblance so people know it is still The Nutcracker,” Satcher said.

Satcher says she plans to transform the auditorium of the Holton Career Center into a “magical winter world.”

Along with decorations, there will be food, raffles and an auction featuring professional photographs taken around Durham of the dancers. They are also in the process of making a documentary on the performance, something Satcher says she hopes could one day make it somewhere like Sundance Film Festival as a grassroots film.

“There are a lot of underlying social things going on in this play, and hopefully that will come across,” Satcher said. “As varying as the ethnicities of the kids are, I have never seen a group of people help each other and be so supportive like they are. They really are the brightest group of individuals I have ever seen.”

“There are so many things that drive people apart,” Satcher said. “The two things that bring people together are music and art.”

Lead Roles:

  • Ms. Wheeler: played by Bernadine Fields, Dance teacher at Southern High School and Walltown Children’s Theatre.
  • Sarah Tucker  & Melissa Smith: played by Caitlin Holloway, Neal School, 12 years old.
  • Sarah Tucker: played by Kira Allen, Pearsontown, 12 years old.
  • Dana Tucker, Sugarplum Fairy: played by assistant choreographer Kristin Taylor, University North Carolina School of Arts (alumni) and instructor at Walltown Children’s Theatre.
  • Rebecca Walker: Lauren Brennan, Kestral Heights, 13 years old.
  • Melissa Smith: played by Caroline LeGrand, Jordan High School, 15 years old.
  • David Smith: played by Cameron Heath, Durham School of Arts, 14 years old.
  • Ms. Tucker (Mother): Toya Merritt, City of Durham Neighborhood Improvement Services Department
  • Kevin Hamak, plays Uncle T. He is a a landscape architect in Durham at the design firm of Coulter Thames Jewell, PA.