‘A Kansas Nutcracker’ returns to stage with new characters

In this file photo, Kate Dinneen, Lawrence, plays a bass with the pit orchestra before the finale of dancers performing in A Kansas Nutcracker during a dress rehearsal on Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2011 in the theater at the Lawrence Arts Center. The Kansas Nutrcracker, written by Ric Averill, is a reinterpretation of E.T.A. Hoffman's The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, and is set in the Civil War era, rather, centering on Kansas history.

A Kansas Nutcracker

7 p.m., Dec. 13, 14, 20, 21 and 2 p.m., Dec. 15, 21, 22, Lawrence Arts Center, 940 New Hampshire St.

Tickets: $20 adults, $17 seniors, $14 student/child

Available at Lawrence Arts Center box office or online

Local history and the holidays converge in an especially unique way for this year’s “A Kansas Nutcracker” at the Lawrence Arts Center. With 2013 marking the 150th anniversary of Quantrill’s Raid in Lawrence, Ric Averill’s re-casting of the original “Nutcracker” story, set in Kansas in 1861, is as relevant as ever.

With a cast of about 135, the play includes important figures in Kansas’ Civil War history as characters, such as Hugh Cameron, one of the founders of Lawrence with the Emigrant Aid Society, and Charles Robinson, the first governor of Kansas.

Writer and director Averill has added new characters for this year, including the family of Kansas newspaperman John Speer Sr., whose son is said to have shot the only raider in Quantrill’s group to die in the raid, while his other two sons died at the hands of the raiders. Averill added the Speer family because he was a participant in the Twitter reenactment of Quantrill’s Raid in August and said he was inspired by some of the other characters of the time.

The show’s music also has been adapted to reflect the Civil War era in Kansas. Jeff Dearinger has orchestrated Tchaikovsky’s score for the Free State Liberation Orchestra, a 13-piece ensemble that includes a mandolin quartet.

“It is such a wonderful score that has a certain amount of derivative of folk and ethnic stuff that he was drawing from,” Averill said. “We add the mandolins in place of the brass, and that sound evokes the 1800s, with people sitting around playing music together.”

The choreography for the show was created by Deb Bettinger and was rehearsed this year by Hanan Misko and Cindy Crews. Dancers range in age from 5 to over 60, featuring Misko, also the Arts Center’s new director of dance, as the Snow King, and an ensemble cast of about 80 young dancers. Averill’s granddaughter, Isabella Neuteboom, age 5, will join the production for the first time as a mouse. His daughter, Trish Neuteboom, plays Mrs. Stahlbaum.

Jerry Mitchell will play Drosselmeier the magician, who helps move the action forward.

“He will be a whole of a lot of fun to watch. He’s wonderful,” Averill said.

In advance of the show, thanks to a grant from the Heritage Conservation Council of Douglas County, actors from “A Kansas Nutcracker” will appear at local schools in character and period dress, with a theme of “fashions of the times.” They will discuss their authentic 1861 costumes with the children, as well as issues of the time, such as abolition, suffrage and temperance.