Review | THE NUTCRACKER at House Theatre of Chicago
Pictured: Ensemble Members of The House Theatre of Chicago’s THE NUTCRACKER. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
There is a reason some holiday shows come back year after year and become Chicago staples at Christmastime. They are a delicious mixture of magic, snow, music, and talent that genuinely like being a part of the holiday celebration. Such is the case with THE NUTCRACKER currently in its ninth reincarnation delivered by The (power) House Theatre of Chicago and hosted at the beautiful Chopin Theatre where it always smells like Christmas.
There are a few dramatic liberties this production takes with the original story by German fantasy writer E.T.A. Hoffman, but all for the better, as Clara’s brother Fritz is given the responsibility to be the Nutcracker (he is the one who breaks the toy in the ballet version) and therefore must save Christmas from the darkness that has befallen it. There are parallels drawn between war and enlightenment and in the end, redemption comes in the form of learning that we can all bring light in if we do our best. As E.T.A. Hoffman said himself: “Even in gay, easygoing, and carefree minds there may exist a presentiment of dark powers within ourselves which are bent upon our own destruction.”
To add to the masterful retelling of this tale is the scenic design of Collette Pollard, which allows us to transport ourselves from the warmth and light of the house interior to the creepy rat filled darkness of the walls’ innards where the vision of the Rat King set some young audience members scurrying into their parents’ bosoms.
The live music is a wonderful touch and the song and dance numbers can be a great thrill, however, some of the ballads take away from the inertia of the show. Luckily the voices of Haley Bolithon (Clara) and Desmond Gray (Fritz) are velvety soft and their authenticity brings a sweet layer to the production. The triad of toys played by Ben Hertel (Hugo), Rachel Shapiro (Phoebe) and Johnny Arena (Monkey) is delightful. They bring out joyful laughter every time they are on stage and one wishes that one could sit on every side of this round staging to catch the asides they bestow on some audience members. Nicholas Bailey and Amanda De La Guarda double up as both the parents and the rats and in doing so manage to play broken and caring as well as mischievous and callous. And Rom Barkhordar as Uncle Drosselmeyer and the Really Quite Scary Rat oscillates effortlessly between eccentric wisdom and contemptuous glee. Great talented ensemble resides in this holiday fare.
On a personal note, seeing this production for the third time, but with my children for the first, watching their faces light up with joy as the rats are defeated and the holidays will be celebrated after all is a gift. Also, any production that dumps heaps of snow indoors and at intermission allows the young ones to play with it is already winning Christmas. Happy Holidays to you, too, Nutcracker!
November 19th, 2018