The Show Goes On for Manhattan Youth's Production of 'The Nutcracker'

Children from 18 afterschool classes performed on the P.S./I.S. 89 stage. This year, the number of children in the dance programs grew from 140 to 185. Photos by Carl Glassman/Tribeca Trib

The nearly 200 children from Manhattan Youth’s 18 afterschool dance classes came together on the P.S./I.S. 89 stage on Saturday, Dec. 15. It was the organization's third annual adaptation of The Nutcracker. And while the two afternoon performances were filled, once again, with creatively costumed and choreographed kids from kindergarten to middle school, this Nutcracker was a bit of a holiday miracle.

Just seven weeks before, the floodwaters that submerged the lower floor of the Downtown Community Center on Warren Street destroyed everything that had been stored there, including $5,000 worth of costumes, plus the canvas, paints, power tools and everything else that goes into Manhattan Youth's elaborate spring and summer productions.

"There was no question that we were going to do this. But I couldn't even wrap my head around it,"  Susan Kay, the production’s director, said of her reaction to the destruction. “We were all stressed out. The teachers were worried that it wasn't going to be great and I had to reassure them that it was going to be fabulous. And it was fabulous.”

Fabulous, in part, because Connie Tarbox succeeded in creating all 200 costumes. And with less rehearsal time than usual, the afterschool dance teachers in six Downtown schools and the relocated rehearsal space managed to get their young students choreographed and ready.

"The fact that the kids are all doing the same thing in the same direction is really amazing," said Kay. "You figure they have only an hour per class, once a week for not that many weeks."

Standing on stage before the production began, Manhattan Youth director Bob Townley praised the efforts of his staff for putting the show together under trying conditions. But the biggest applause came from his announcement: "As we speak there is water—hot water—going into the swimming pool in the Downtown Community Center."

Susan Kay could barely respond when asked what this latest production meant to her.

"I'm going to cry," she said. "Don't make me cry."

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