'NUTCRACKER 1776'

The long: Holiday fairy-tale ballet features Tchaikovsky score, and traditional and new characters (hi there, dancing Ben Franklin and light-footed George Washington) played by a cast of 200 young dancers, ages 5 through high school. Whole thing lasts 70 minutes.

The short: Love the Pa. Ballet production, but this one's preferable for wee squirmers.

The crowd: Relatives, friends and more supporters of superb talent. Best for ages 4 and up.

The story: Girl attends party. Girl gets nutcracker as gift. Girl falls asleep, dreams of land of sweets.

The difference: Costumes reflect Colonial days. Characters include heroes of the Revolutionary War. Instead of a Mouse King, there's "General Mouse Howe." "Lady Liberty" subs for Mother Ginger.

The aww: If you adore the angels in the Academy of Music production, you'll go gaga for the party scene's tiny dancers.

The awesome: Lead roles - Sugarplum on down - go to mere teenagers.

The break: The few moments between acts let you blow noses, run to restroom, consume Goldfish.

BYO: Booster seat. The Merriam Theater doesn't have them. (Alternatively: Pile a seat with winter coats.)

Friday: The cast performs its dress rehearsal for nearly 2,000 students from 25 Philadelphia schools. Lucky them.

The basics: Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St. (between Locust and Spruce), 7 p.m. Friday, 1 & 4 p.m. Saturday, $23-$43, 215-893-1999, therockschool.org.

If you drive: Parking's no pleasure, but kimmelcenter.org lets you prepay for its garage on 15th between Locust and Spruce streets, about $20.

If you SEPTA: Broad Street Line to Walnut-Locust; route 4, 27 or 32 bus.

Lauren McCutcheon is a features reporter with a 2-year-old who wants light-up sneakers for Christmas. Send suggestions for Kiddin' Around topics to mccutch@phillynews.com.