I was invited to see The House Theatre of Chicago’s production of The Nutcracker on November 18. I was told that his was not the Joffrey Ballet production, which made me more interested in attending. There’s nothing wrong with the ballet, and I’ve been to plenty of live ballet performances, but I had seen televised versions of the Tchaikovsky-scored ballet numerous times and was looking forward to a new take on the old story.
Other than knowing the general story of The Nutcracker, I had no idea what to expect from The House’s rendition – an original play version of the E.T.A. Hoffmann story – that has been entertaining appreciative audiences over the holidays for the last three years.
What I got was a a delightful take on the original. The theater is in-the-round so audience members who want to feel like they’re part of the show can sit in the lower rows. For those of us who would prefer to view from a distance, the Chopin Theatre also has more traditional seating; all of the roughly 150 seats in the intimate theater are good ones.
The play is kid-friendly but doesn’t pander. Like classic animated Disney, this version of The Nutcracker has some dark elements that the very young would find scary. But like modern Pixar, there are some jokes and references that are clearly aimed at the adults in the audience. Both kids and adults can have fun, but just in case, the Chopin Theatre has a concession area with a full bar.
The book, music, and lyrics are all original to this production. That means it’s not all Clara’s dream, there’s not a note of Tchaikovsky to be heard, and there’s a catchy song about baking cookies. Traditionalists may balk, but I found The House’s version fun and fast-moving with some really cute songs.
The highlights for me were Paige Collins’ (Clara) beautiful voice and the Cockney rats. Because of course rats have Cockney accents! The puppetry was clever and the sets ingenious.
If you go with children be sure to sit in the front so they can play in the “snow” during intermission.
The Nutcracker runs through December 30.