Magic of the Nutcracker

Three 10-year-old friends (l-r) Emma Farkas (12/10), Satya Finch (12/9) and Daphne Huffman (12/8) performed the role of Clara on successive nights. Embracing them is Lily Keep as their prince. “This is the first year we’ve cast such young Claras,” said Sherry Jason, who with her husband Bob, have produced the Topanga Nutcracker for 37 years. Photo by Patricia Saphier

There is magic.

It happened last weekend in one of Topanga’s historic buildings, an unobtrusive wood and brick structure on a large piece of property that is now the beloved Topanga Community Center (TCC), built brick by brick in the late 1940s by Topangans who envisioned a central gathering place.

On December 5, at the end of a warm day beset with fires in the hills throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties, Topanga had been spared this time and life in the community went on to explore other aspects of its potential.

We were in the main room of the Community House, sitting on folding chairs, looking

around to see if we knew anyone in the audience and happy to be inside because the evening had brought a winter chill to the hills.

A red curtain, closed and impartial in its demeanor, covered the stage at the end of the room, a teaser to the rest of the evening. The audience was active, moving from one spot to

another, greeting friends and herding children.  

The show was to begin at 7:30. Around 7:40, Bob Jason, for the moment, the producer, enabler and general facilitator behind the evening came on the P.A. system to say all would be ready in ten minutes. Jason would later appear in the role of the Father with his wife, Sherry, as the Mother hosting the opening party. Go ahead to another 20 minutes with everyone still happily talking and anticipating the coming event.

Suddenly, there was a quiet that spread from one person to another and the lights went off. How do audiences know when something is about to happen? The music began with Tchaikovsky’s much adored Nutcracker Suite. In 1892, however, the first performance of this music did not impress the audience. Who were they then who didn’t hear the immortal beauty of the music?  From the first note, it takes you to another world and keeps you there until the last note fades away.

Then the magic happened. Angelic, lively, innocent with a touch of awareness, young faces, beautiful beyond expectations, appeared before us in an array of costumes. Yellow, apricot, light green and soft purple were among the colors that twirled and jumped and ran across the stage. Older faces did the more challenging roles, but all had that air of expectancy that tonight was the night and it was going to be perfect.

Sherry and Bob Jason are the directors, producers, performers and all-around managers of everything who have been doing this for 37 years. Our community would be much poorer without them.  

Of course, it is a community effort and many volunteers worked their tails off to make it happen. Everything ran smoothly. Technical devices, scenery, sets kept us enthralled without ever knowing it wasn’t sheer magic. Whatever may have gone wrong didn’t matter. From three or four years to, I’m not sure what ages, the cast of eager children and enthusiastic men and women created a night that was perfect beyond the moment because it included the energetic enthusiasm of a huge group of people who wanted to share their Christmas pageant. It was a night of dreams with beautiful children, lovely women, villainous spirits in the guise of mice, and music—music that filled the soul. All sizes and shapes from the littlest ones who looked to their neighbor to figure out what to do next, and earnest dancers who brought us a touch of joy and grace in movement and mime.

The Nutcracker is written around young Clara who is given a nutcracker by Uncle Drosselmeier, a magician, who brings her nutcracker to life in a dream where the nutcracker becomes a prince in a fairyland of where all the sweets, flowers, snowflakes and sugar plums and people of the world dance for Clara. It was all entwined in a night to remember for its beauty, enthusiasm, hard work, joy and the realization of what can be done if you want it to happen.

Christmas came early for me.


By Joanne Martinez


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