Ahwatukee composer David Coste and Esperanza Lutheran Church are continuing what is becoming a Christmas tradition in the community by presenting a new Christmas musical.
Their “The Thingy That Cracks Nuts,” will debut at 7 p.m. Dec. 15-16 and 3 p.m. Dec. 17, at the church, 2601 E. Thunderhill Place, Ahwatukee. Tickets, at a suggested donation of $5, are available at thethingythatcraksnuts.com, in the church office on Mondays and Wednesdays and at the door.
Coste is basing his new production on “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann and adapted by Alexander Dumas for the ballet by Tchaikovsky.
Coste has written hundreds of songs for various media. His first work was as a resident composer at University Lutheran Chapel at UCLA, writing choral and electronic music. As a performer, he regularly plays guitar, drums and keyboards at Esperanza, keyboards for the local jazz fusion band Jazzatukee and multiple instruments for his creative project, The Company Drive.
In 2010, Coste launched Josquin Music to consolidate all his music and instruction. He teaches privately a roster of keyboard, guitar and drum students with a range from 6 years old to adult.
The plot follows the classic story of Marie Stahlbaum, who adopts a broken nutcracker and sees it come to life to help battle the mouse army. In the second act, the story of how the nutcracker came to be is acted out on stage: In a faraway kingdom, a princess is cursed by the mouse queen with a giant nutcracker head.
A young man breaks the curse, but through the treachery of the mouse queen takes the curse onto himself, and is transformed into a nutcracker doll. In the final scene, the Mouse King demands all of Marie’s possessions in place of the nutcracker.
But the doll comes to life, prevails over the mouse king and is restored to a prince. He invites Marie to be his queen and gives her a gift that is not the land of sweets.
“This ending is where the plot diverges from the original story,” Coste said. “In Hoffmann’s time, sweets may have been a rare treat for children, but in our modern sweet-filled society, it’s not such a big deal.
“In ‘The Thingy That Cracks Nuts,’ Marie gets a different reward, something I think would satisfy Hoffmann as well as our current youth.”
“Thingy” also differs from the Christmas classic in another significant way: The music is all original and is not based on any of Tchaikovsky’s themes.
‘It is my first premiere since ‘Noelophobia’ in 2010,” Coste said.
Coste said he got the idea of retelling the Christmas story after reading an article that noted the Dumas adaption “didn’t tell the whole story of the Nutcracker, nor did it emphasize some main themes that Hoffmann was communicating through his story.”
He said the article noted that “Hoffmann was commenting on his generation’s overemphasis on rational thinking, at the expense of fantasy.”
“In Hoffmann’s original story, there is a backstory about ‘The Hard Nut to Crack,’ which explains how the Nutcracker came to be,” he explained. “In this part of the story, a young man removes a curse from a princess, only to take curse onto himself.
"The princess refuses to marry the now-ugly man, who travels with his uncle Drosselmeyer, looking for someone who will love him in spite of his looks, which sets up the main Nutcracker story. This will be covered in ‘The Thingy That Cracks Nuts.’”
Coste sees “a tension between the wonderful fantasy world of Marie and the dreamless world of reality which is embraced by the adults and her older sister, Louise. The mysterious Godfather Drosselmeyer straddles these two worlds.”
Coste and his largely very young cast have been hard at work on the production since summer.
“They rehearse just one day a week,” he said. “We don’t want this production to dominate family schedules, as many productions do. So, there are no boot camps or rehearsal weekends. We encourage families to use any extra time for family activities.”
“The Thingy That Cracks Nuts” is produced by Esperanza Lutheran Church and Josquin Music. The directing team consists of Coste and Kathy Tuszynski, Children’s Ministry coordinator at Esperanza.
Supervising the team that built the sets is Hal Hoover, who expanded the stage and constructed the support walls for the show, including the grandfather clock.
The cast of 28 ranges in age from 7 through high school and includes church members and other Ahwatukee residnts.
“The full inclusion of the Ahwatukee community is important to Esperanza Lutheran Church, a church that considers itself welcoming to all people regardless of church membership,” Coste said.