A Nutty Nutcracker

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Tara Fields in Nutcracker

Tara Fields, KRON-TV psychotherapist, rehearses at the Paramount Theatre.

Except for his missing ballet slippers, Tony La Russa looks at home on the Oakland Ballet’s Nutcracker set.

His eyes focused on the dancer in front of him, the former A’s manager matches the famous score, looking every bit the part of the toy soldier heading for battle with the Rat King and his legions.

Too bad the dancer in front of him can’t stop giggling long enough to remember her steps. The dancer is none other than Tara Fields, KRON-TV Channel 4’s resident psychotherapist.
Field’s partner in mischief is KMEL-FM (106) radio’s house party DJ Renel, who’s cracking jokes faster than you can say “Merry Christmas.”

In a unique community effort, the local celebrities donned dance slippers Tuesday afternoon at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland to rehearse for their Friday night performance, the ninth annual All-Star Night at the Nutcracker.

Renel, leading the haphazard dance troupe of stars with Field’s at her side, looks out at the audience and poses with a wide smile — promptly stopping the procession.

“Whoops!” she says before she and Fields break out in another round of giggles.
Looking tired, Oakland ballet’s artistic director Ronn Guidi can’t hold back a laugh. Certainly his other dancers wouldn’t get away with such shenanigans, but directing 11 celebrities, including A’s pitcher Todd Van Poppel and KTVU -TV’s Doug Murphy, in “the Nutcracker” ballet, isn’t something Guidi does every day.

It’s more like once a year. Formally called A’s night at the Nutcracker, the event is eagerly anticipated by both the audience and the celebrity participants as a Bay Area holiday tradition. The popular event has sold out every year.

Celebrities slated to perform alongside Oakland ballet company members Friday include KTVU- TV Channel 2’s Dennis Richmond, KPIX-TV channel 5’s Doug Murphy, retired Warrior’s player Nate Thurmond and KRON-TV Channel 4’s Henry Tenenbaum.

Former A's manager Tony La Russa rehearses with Oakland Ballet and other celebrities for the "Nutcracker."

“The biggest thrill for me is getting to be with Tony La Russa, because I am the world’s biggest A’s fan,” Renel, a proud Oakland native, confides backstage.

Though La Russa left in the A’s this year to manage the St. Louis Cardinals, his commitment to the community based festivity hasn’t faded. His daughters, Bianca and Devon, who are both accomplished ballerinas, Bill dance by his side Friday night, with Devon as the lead, Marie. La Russa has let his support to the program by helping organize and participate in the event since 1987.

“Both the Oakland ballet and to the Oakland A’s target the community (in their work), so it’s only fitting that they join forces,” says Kathy Jacobson, former director of media relations for the A’s.

“Athletes work so hard training, both mentally and physically. And it’s the same with the ballet (dancers),” she says. “(The celebrities) were amazed at how hard the dancers worked, and the two groups developed a mutual respect. It has worked out to a wonderful partnership.”

Which is why Fields agreed to participate. She just didn’t count on having such a good time.

“It’s so much more fun than I thought it would be,” Fields says, pulling on her bonbon costume for her next scene.

Van Poppel, who danced in the event two years ago, had one reservation about returning — he didn’t want such a tight costume this year.

“His parents split right up the back last time because he was too big,” Jacobson says of the player, who flew in from Dallas to participate. “So when I asked him to be in it this year, he said, ‘could you please tell them to get bigger pants?’ “.

It’s a motley crew, that’s for sure. Van Poppel marches next to Bay Meadows jockey Luis Juaregui, trying not to trip over the flustered KFRC-AM (610) DJ Cammie Blackstone, who’s unsure if she’s got her steps down correctly.

But the Oakland ballet company is on hand to lend its expertise. The dancers smile with amusement, watching the celebrities stumble through their scenes.

“The dancers have been so wonderful,” Fields says.

“Yeah, but I think there communicated with us,” Renel notes. “They think were big geeks.”