The Nutcracker House Theatre of Chicago

Back by Popular Demand

Thu-Sat 8p; Sun 7p

Just added: Fri 11/25, Sat 11/26, Sat 12/10; Sat 12/17; Sun 12/18; Fri 12/23; Sat 12/24 all at 3p.

Also Thu 12/29 and Fri 12/30 at 8p

No shows: Thu 11/24, Sun 12/25

House Theatre still offering a 'Nutcracker' like no other - "... One of my favorite holiday shows!" - Three Stars! - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 11/15/11

Highly Recommended -  "..With toys come to life, ukulele solos and fake snow galore, this is a children’s show on many levels, but the layers of the story go deep and the pain of loss and overcoming familial grief  provide plenty of fodder for adult audiences"  Zach Freeman, NewCity Chicago 11/17/11


Tix $25 at 773.769.3832

buy tickets

11/3/11 - 12/24/11

Thu-Sat 8p; Sun 7p.

Back by Popular Demand

Thu-Sat 8p; Sun 7p until Dec 24

House Theatre still offering a 'Nutcracker' like no other - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 11/15/11.  "A few minutes into the House Theatre's distinctive version of "The Nutcracker" — one of my favorite holiday shows  — the Christmas jollity of an exuberant household is suddenly ended by a gust of frigid wind and the arrival at the door of a man  in uniform, baring a folded flag and the most terrible news. At exactly the same moment as the parents and little sister, Clara,  we grasp that a young Marine named Fritz has been killed in action and won't be coming home for the holidays.

"The Nutcracker," which premiered in 2007 when the House was in residence at the Steppenwolf Theatre and has, for the last two seasons, been remounted at the Chopin Theatre, has always attracted families with small children. That's no doubt due to the familiar title, although this particular "Nutcracker" has no ballet. On Sunday night, I watched a big guy in a Blackhawks  shirt, who seemed to have shown up with his young daughters. It was clearly his first House production, and when that sudden sadness hit the show, he looked down and started fingering the paper ornament that House hands out instead of tickets.  I saw him then look over at the clearly shocked kids, worried. He seemed to be second guessing bringing them along.

But this is the story of a journey back to Christmas, the story of a family learning how to honor the agony of their collective loss while still keeping going, if only for the benefit of Clara, the young woman of the house who deserves all that Christmas  can bring. By now, I've seen a lot of little kids watch this show — which was penned by Phillip C. Klapperich and Jake Minton  and features a small, live orchestra playing Kevin O'Donnell's original score — and they all seem to understand what it wants  to tell them. Loss is a part of life that some of us learn very young. With love, support and acknowledgment, life can and must go on.

In some ways, the House "Nutcracker" takes risks. "Things can change," says one of the adults in the show, "from the way  things are supposed to be to the way they are, much faster than we're willing to see." But the world of this show is a place  where kids and adults both learn to tell the truth, take each other seriously, and take strength and solace from each other.

If you've not seen this piece, don't get the impression it's maudlin. On the contrary, it's a fun and informal piece of theater replete with falling snow, toys that come alive and a joyous sense of togetherness. The show (directed by Tommy Rapley) has  become a little broader over the years, which is something for this company, whose watchword is emotional truth, must watch  carefully. And in future years, it would be good to see more attention paid to the quality of the singing in what is partly a  musical. But the addition this year of the unstinting David Catlin in the key role of Drosselmeyer (most of the other cast members  are returning from past years) is a major new asset.

Catlin sugarcoats nothing. You know that his Drosselmeyer is on a crucial Christmas mission. He only wants to change the lives of three people, but then all the best Christmas stories are about people who set out to change just a couple of people — in Jacob Marley's  case, only one — and yet end up changing far, far more in the annual telling.

The House "Nutcracker" is one of the very rare Christmas shows for adults and kids that does not pretend the world is anything other than  the flawed — and, for some, dangerous — place we actually inhabit. And yet it charts a course by which one little clutch of well-meaning,   feeling people can move forward, as a family, to a happy holidays. And that family I was watching were all laughing and crying together by the end."

The Nutcracker – Julia Thiel, Chicago Reader 11/17/11 – “The House Theatre of Chicago's interpretation of the E.T.A. Hoffmann classic is energetic, funny, and—considering that it's aimed at kids—dark. Things start off in high spirits with Clara and her family decorating for Christmas, welcoming friends to their party, and anticipating the homecoming of brother Fritz, who's been away at war. In the first of several sudden shifts that run throughout the play, the mood goes from almost manically celebratory to heartbreakingly sad when it's reported that Fritz has been killed. The next year Uncle Drosselmeyer shows up bearing a nutcracker that looks exactly like Fritz. It comes to life, not only helping Clara save Christmas from the Rat King but also reuniting her with her dead brother. The logic behind some parts of the plot is fuzzy—Fritz, for instance, explains his reincarnation by pointing out that there are lots of strange things in the world, like shrimp-flavored chips—but overall this is a smart, exuberant show”.


Highly Recommended.  The Nutcracker - Zach Freeman, NewCity Chicago 11/17/11 "The House Theatre’s third rendition of Phillip C. Klapperich and Jake Minton’s adaptation of the E.T.A. Hoffmann  holiday standard “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” marks a self-described “new tradition” for the ten-year-old company. And it’s a welcome one. Opening with a ten-minute introduction that’s as emotionally charged (and devoid of dialogue) as the memorable intro to Pixar’s “Up,” Christmas joviality is transformed into calamity with the news of a son’s death at war. As  a fallen Christmas tree is carried from the stage, so is all the joy, until a year later when the rambunctious Uncle Drosselmeyer  presents young Clara with the magical nutcracker and the wonder begins. With toys come to life, ukulele solos and fake snow galore, this is a children’s show on many levels, but the layers of the story go deep and the pain of loss and overcoming familial grief  provide plenty of fodder for adult audiences. And once the Rat King shows up, children and adults alike will be afraid of the dark".


 Highly Recommend  - A Very Hipster Christmas – Will Fink, – “I’d like to start off by saying that every hipster who lives in Wicker Park, Pilsen, and Logan Square should see this production immediately; after that, the scattering of hipsters in Lakeview, Wrigleyville, and the rest should hop on board.  Also, pretty much everyone else should see it, too.

We’re all more or less familiar with E.T.A. Hoffman’s story about a nutcracker that comes to life and helps his sister defeat the accursed Rat King, whether from the original story, Tchaikovsky’s ballet, or sheer cultural osmosis.  But, as so many of the great stories are, The Nutcracker is also prone to reinvention, which is what the House Theatre has done here.  This is not, strictly speaking, a new piece: it was first performed at the Steppenwolf in 2007; but it has been remounted year after year to high praise.  And one can easily see why.  The storytelling is infectious.  A happy equilibrium is struck between straight acting, sheer exuberance, and clever winking at the audience.  To call this a children’s show would miss the point; to call it a Christmas show would too, although to a lesser extent.  It is, after all, about saving Christmas.  But more than anything it’s a good time, and certainly gets you in the mood for what can otherwise be a soul-crushing shopfest that has now started to infest even Halloween.  You can’t feel miserly about Christmas after this show; and this is coming from someone who strongly believes that any and all talk of Christmas should come after Thanksgiving.  But in this case, one doesn’t mind so much.
The celebration starts off feeling like a Bing Crosby Christmas special come to life, the players all a-hustle and a-bustle, chatting with each other, with the audience, grinning from ear to ear.  It is the annual Christmas party, and family and friends are eagerly awaiting the return of Fritz, the soldier-son returning from war.  There seems little point in rehashing the story, and it’s the presentation and invention that are remarkable here.  First, there’s the clever double-casting of friends as the toys that come to life to aid Clara and of family as the troublesome rats.  There is an effortless whimsy that pervades the production.  The dialogue is cute and funny in that all-ages, something-for-kids-and-adults sort of way, like the Adam West Batman TV series, the original Shrek and the cartoon Freakazoid! all were.  The sort of “Wait, is this a kids show?  Can they say that?” things that fly right over the tykes’ heads.  There’s also an unselfconscious self-consciousness.  This sounds paradoxical, yes.  Okay, so occasionally the characters on stage acknowledge that they’re in a play, they break the fourth wall; and yet they do it so guilelessly, so – again – unselfconsciously that they pull it off.
The incidental music is really good, as well.  It underscores the action and makes a large portion of the play a melodrama in the most classical and best sense of the word.  And occasionally the actors burst into song.  Like you do during Christmas.  The songs are largely fun, if a little too syrupy-sweet; the lyrics are corny, but that’s okay in this situation, right?  At one point the rats sing a song that’s a cross between “London Calling” by The Clash and The Cure’s “Lullaby” with a hint of vaudeville thrown in.  There are also two songs that feature the ukulele – one even had an 8-string tenor uke – the very definition of a hipster instrument.  But they sound quite nice.
Really, this is a bit of a perfect Christmas show.  It’s fun, sweet, poignant, funny, whimsical, but more than anything it’s a great experience.  Seriously, try to get in before the hipsters buy all the seats”.

Highly Recommended – “The Nutcracker” - Laura Whalen, Chicago Theater Beat. “"... Putting a new spin on a beloved story is never easy and always risky. When the story revolves around the holidays, challenges increase tenfold. But when a powerful script is flawlessly executed by a stellar production team and a gifted cast, that’s when real magic happens. The House Theatre’s production of The Nutcracker is daring, imaginative and makes a true artistic statement from beginning to end. This is what Chicago theatre should always be."


Tix $25 at 773.769.3832

book by Jake Minton and Phillip C. Klapperich based on the story by E.T.A. Hoffman. Lyrics Jake Minton

Tommy Rapley

David Catlin; Briana DiGiulio; Tyler Ravelson; Mike Smith; Marika Mashburn; Joey Steakley; Mary Hollis Inboden; Chris Mathews

Music - Kevin O'Donnell; Choregraphy - Tommy Rapley; Scenic & Props Designer - Collette Pollard; Asst Scenic Designer - Izumi Inabi; Costume & Puppet Designer - Debbie Baer; Costume Manager - Mieka Van der Ploeg; Puppet Builder - Billy Dee; Audio Engineer - Claudette Perez; Light Desginer - Lee Keenan; Asst Light Designer - Clare Roche; Sound Designer - Michael Griggs; Master Electrician - Will Dean; Stage Manager - Katie Beeks; Production Manager - Jeremy Wilson; Asst Stage Manager - Kathleen Henderson; Production Assistants - Shayna Petit and Brian Browne; Technical Director - Ryan Poethke; Music Director - Mike Przygoda; Asst Music Director - Diana Lawrence; Pianist - Mathew Muniz; Violinst - Justine Turner; Celloist - Alkesandra Lederer and Percussionist - Ryan Engleman

Tags: Theater, American, 2011