BWW Reviews: CHARLIE BROWN & NUTCRACKER on Van Ness

Short and sweet, A Charlie Brown Christmas does not arrive until the second half of San Francisco Symphony's current holiday concert. But Charlie is worth the wait. In their West Coast debut, Charlie and friends dance about the Davies Hall stage and warm many a heart with feel-good cheer. Celebrating the Christmas spirit does not come any better than what the Symphony offers.

BWW Reviews: CHARLIE BROWN & NUTCRACKER on Van NessThe family concert's first half features friendly conductor Randall Craig Fleischer and stunning soprano Lisa Vroman, who has starred in Broadway's Phantom of the Opera. Vroman knows her own voice. She controls her operatic sound flawlessly as she moves from traditional Broadway and Christmas fare to the slightest bit of scat jazz. And of course, the Symphony, too, sounds extraordinary in its solo turns with classics like "White Christmas." The powerful Symphony Chorus lends its talents with "Joy to the World" and other favorites, as well.

When the boy of the hour arrives, children from the American Conservatory Young Conservatory Program give voice to character dancers, who move in a ballet of sorts. Michael Starr as Charlie Brown, along with his famous Christmas tree (the adorable Makena Malonso) highlight the performance with priceless facial expressions. Against the backdrop of Vince Guaraldi's relaxing jazz score, actor and singer Michael Covert narrates the inviting tale, which concludes the Symphony's concert with a few sing-along Christmas carols. The concert plays through December 24. Ticket and information are available at www.sfsymphony.org. Arrive early for photo opportunities and live piano in the lobby.

Across the street at the War Memorial Opera House, San Francisco Ballet continues its run of Tchaikovsky's beloved Nutcracker, set in early 1900's San Francisco. Choreographer Helgi Tomasson's production sweeps young Clara into a world of dreams orchestrated by a magical Drosselmeyer, present throughout to wave his fantastical cape and usher in new surprises. A mouse trap replaces Clara's slipper, but all of the new elements stay true to the spirit of the original. Tomasson's movements are elegant, often fun and always a joy to watch.

Scenic designer Michael Yeargan provides a charming historic home that truly wows when Clara's dreams bring it to overwhelming size. Yeargan's simpler design for the second half the production is less impressive, with a large screen, projected images and a few dropdown pieces to frame the action. In contrast, Martin Pakledinaz's bedazzled costumes demand attention and complement the attractive, romantic dancers who wear them.

San Francisco Ballet started the Nutcracker holiday tradition, and it continues to set a high standard with gorgeous creative elements and a fabulous live orchestra. Tickets and information for the production (playing through December 29) are available at www.sfballet.org.

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From This Author Harmony Wheeler

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