Wholly original, with yards of charm to spare, The House Theatre of Chicago once again is staging its holiday hit, The Nutcracker. This contemporary Christmas themed showcase is easily shared with the entire family. Now in its eight astounding incarnation, this frenetic showcase, passes on the traditional Russian ballet tights and jettisons the Court of the Sugar Plum Fairy. Marketed as “Ballet-free” this Nutcracker is filled to the brim with earnest charms, legitimate merriment & mirth, while strumming intentionally on the old heartstrings. Originally created by Jake Minton, Phillip Klapperich, Kevin O’Donnell and Tommy Rapley, based on the story by E.T.A. Hoffman, this modern day holiday tale weaves together eye-popping puppetry, an original soundtrack and timely female empowerment with a truly heartwarming story guaranteed to sooth the soul of any holiday Grinch. Once again proving itself a powerhouse with artfully crafted, avant-garde storytelling, lead this year by director, Chris Matthews and choreographer, Hillary Aarons, this wonderfully witty and thoroughly refreshing take quickly removes the chill off of any urban-dwelling citizen.
The story centered around young Clara (Haley Seda) and her personal journey to save her family’s Christmas in the face of tremendous odds. Her older brother, Fritz (Desmond Gray) a fallen solider whose spirit returned in the guise of a magical Nutcracker, faithfully by her side in the process. With her assortment of misfit toys along for her personal journey, including a yarn-haired blonde doll, Phoebe (Rachel Shapiro), a dancing monkey (Ian Maryfield) and cerebral Robot named Hugo (Ben Hertel) this collection of rapid-fire improvisational maestros continually amused.
Facing off against a nasty trio of rotten rodents, Nicholas Bailey, Amanda De La Guardia and Torrey Hanson, as well as the magnificently menacing Rat King marionette, crafted by Puppet Master, Colin Morgan, Clara thankfully emerged triumphant, slaying her own dragons and personal demons. Being told there are “Monsters in the dark and monsters in the light” how true that statement resonated in this year’s hotly contested political climate. Adding to that, this timely tale of empowerment, where the hero on display is decidedly female, couldn’t come at a more timely zenith, as paragons of the patriarchy are proven predatory on a seemingly daily basis. Clara not only triumphantly rescues Christmas for her entire extended family, but for the attending audience as well.
Supported by a sextet of live musicians at every show, The House Theatre continues to prove itself a giant in midsize store front productions. Imaginative, visionary, clever and astute, this show continues to compel from start to finish. The House Theatre’s The Nutcracker is an established holiday hit, delivering a modern take on this Christmastime classic. This Nutcracker is a gift that continues to give, fresh as a cookie from the oven with a gooey center to be enjoyed by all.
The House Theatre of Chicago’s The Nutcracker is now playing through December 30, 2017
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