By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
Must be great to work with puppets. They're never late to rehearsals. No smoke breaks. And in the hands of the master puppeteers of Kathy Burks Theatre of Puppetry Arts — Douglass Burks, Sally Fiorello, Becky Burks Keenan and Ziggy Renner — the stars always come through with flawless performances.
The Burks troupe's holiday show, The Nutcracker, now playing in the Studio space at Dallas Children's Theater, is as fine a way for families to spend 100 non-shopping minutes together this season as there is. B. Wolf's adaptation of the story begins with the composer explaining how he was inspired to write the ballet score from the rhythms of a train ride. Then things veer off into whimsical vignettes, including a graceful poodle Sugar Plum Fairy, accompanied by Tchaikovsky's lush, twinkly waltzes.
An array of gorgeous rod puppets appear on a classic "black theater" stage (the puppeteers, clad head to toe in black velvet, blend into the background), with an extra screen for shadow puppetry. Kids in the audience giggle right on cue when the tiny puppet mice invade Clara's Christmas tree. The Nutcracker Prince takes Clara on a soaring sleigh ride into the magical world of Spanish and Russian dancers. It's aah-inspiring, beginning to end.