'Snoopy's Nutcracker on Ice' a Delightfully Different Version

TIMES STAFF WRITER

"Snoopy's Nutcracker on Ice," Knott's Berry Farm's holiday production, is like that surprise package under the Christmas tree. You think you know what's in it so you approach it with tepid anticipation, only to find something delightfully different inside.

From the title, this "Nutcracker" sounds as if Sugar Plum Fairies, dancing flowers and all will revolve around the "Peanuts" beagle, highlighted perhaps by World War I flying ace Snoopy battling the Red Baron Rat King.

Instead, this abbreviated adaptation of the Tchaikovsky ballet, conceived and adapted by Amanda McTigue and Jeff Langley, stays close to the original in its excerpts and opts for beauty and tradition, not beagles. Snoopy, who comes to life as one of Clara's toys, is primarily a spectator.

The result--s ans Rat King--is, except for a few technical flaws, a sparkling, sweet little stocking-stuffer version of the classic.

In the large Chevrolet/Geo Good Time Theatre, dressed up for the occasion in greenery and Christmas lights, professional skaters, exquisitely costumed by Jef Billings, glide gracefully through the recorded Tchaikovsky melodies. They don't just look pretty, either, but with wordless expressiveness bring the characters to life.

Eve Reinhardt in particular is a lovely presence as young Clara, while romance is supplied in full measure by Jeff La Brake and Dorothi Rodek, the handsome pair who play the adult Clara and the Nutcracker-turned-Prince.

Glittering snowflakes and flowers whirl, a vivid Spanish duo and a golden harem dancer move with sensuous grace on the proscenium stage. Each appears against a backdrop of colorful, eye-catching projections--elephants and camels, stars and Christmas tree ornaments--that don't steal the scene but complement the performers.

Lights, designed by Tom Cluff and Dave Herron, range from icy tones to rainbow hues and make a big contribution to the overall fantasy mood.

The flaws are few. One is an unnecessarily self-promoting, prerecorded intro that tells us the Nutcracker was given to Clara during her visit to "a magical place"--Knott's Berry Farm. Another, more serious, is the noisy, mood-breaking snow-blowing machine that at one point overwhelms the recorded score.

The show has otherwise been conceived with sensitivity, the focus on theater rather than impersonal spectacle. Willy Bietak and Cathy Steele, who staged and directed the show, offer the same sensitivity.

Making a special trip to the park just to see the 40-minute production would be an expensive ticket, but if you've planned to go anyway, try to fit the show in between roller coaster rides and panning for gold. You'll find it an unusually sweet family treat.

"Snoopy's Nutcracker on Ice," Knott's Berry Farm, Beach Boulevard, Buena Park, today, Thursday, Saturday, Sunday-next Wednesday, Jan. 1-3, 1, 3 and 5 p.m. Park admission: adults, $23.95; children, ages 3 to 11, $11.94; seniors, age 60 and up, $15.95. Information: (714) 220-5200.

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