Thanksgiving was “late” this year (Six fewer days between gobbling up the turkey and leaving cookies for Santa) and many of us are feeling the time crunch for Christmas preparations. There are trees to decorate, goodies to bake, and gifts to wrap. Oh, and a wonderful show to see to get you into the holiday spirit.

Once the lights dim, the audience is immediately invited into the enchanted story of “The Nutcracker.” The familiar and brilliant Tchaikovsky score (recorded), warms your heart, eases your mind, and prepares you for the magical journey Clara (brilliantly played by Kadee Vermeulen) takes you on Christmas Eve.

Act I opens with the Stahlbaum family hosting a festive Christmas Eve party that includes much laughter, dancing, and of course, presents. Clara’s Godfather Dross (Al Jacklin) is known for showering the children with unique gifts and this year is no exception — unusual dolls (Madisyn Sheesley and Victoria Colwell) which are brought to life and dance to everyone’s delight.

The choreography is creative and draws the audience directly into the scene — as if we, too, are guests at the party. Both Sheesley and Colwell were confident in their performance and created energy and excitement among the party guests. The unique use of child-sized dolls alongside the actors is intended to help us distinguish dream from reality (though at times confusing due to the interaction with both the actor and the doll).

Clara’s special gift is a wooden Nutcracker. After everyone is tucked in for the night, Clara wakes up to giant, frenzied mice scurrying around the room, the Christmas tree, fireplace, and clock growing to several feet tall (this is amazing) and the life-sized Nutcracker (Brett Pazour) engaging in battle with the Mouse King (Tim Goldammer) to keep his crown. Goldammer is intense and a fierce contender. Pazour instinctively plays the noble Prince as if he has been on stage for years.

Among the many characters we meet along the journey to the Snow Kingdom is the beautiful, charming, and quick with wit Snow Queen (Samantha Menning). Menning performs flawlessly as she lights up the room with her dazzling movement and witticism. Along the path, Clara meets Tea (Logan Culhane) and Coffee (Kayla White) who delight the viewers with impressive movement and dance.

Mother Gignone (Matthew Bailey) makes a spectacular larger-than-life entrance as mice and children run about. The Owl Clock (Bonnie Oberg) keeps us moving throughout the kingdom and we meet many other confectionary delights in the land of snow and sweets: The Candy Cane Guard, the Sugar Plum Fairy, and an entourage of flowers and snowflakes.

There are so many creative aspects of this show that make it memorable. The dancing, the music, the costumes, the skillful line delivery. All the cast members were a pleasure to watch and the energy on stage was infectious. The extraordinary set pieces are impressive, and the magnificent costumes are over the top.

Directors Devin Carey and Ruth Sejnoha are to be commended for tackling this difficult show. Their imagination, skillful staging, and attention to artistic detail has created an enchanting holiday show that leaves your heart happy and ready for the holidays.

The show by Area Community Theatre has performances at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec 6, and Saturday, Dec. 7, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8 at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are available online at www.mitchellact.org or call 996-9137 for more information.