The Nutcracker House Theatre of Chicago

Highly Recommended - ".. better than ever this friendly..richly imaginative.." - Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 11/24/12

Highly Recommended - ".. imaginative and inventive..I was teary-eyed in less than five minutes" - Dan Jakes, Chicago Reader 11/14/12

"..engaging, family friendly treat" - Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 11/22/12

"..untraditional yet utterly sincere... This "Nutcracker" is becoming something of a hip holiday tradition" - Alex Huntsberger,

Highly Recommended -".. The Nutcracker is an authentic piece of real life Christmas cheer .." - Clint May,

This production is Jeff Recommended

Tix $25 to $35.  $10 Student/Rush.  More information 773.769.3832

11/9/12 - 12/30/12

Thu-Sat 8p; Sun 7p

Highly Recommended - 'Nutcracker' review: House's original 'Nutcracker' can save a family at Christmas.  - "Contrary to their reputation in the business, holiday shows actually are high-stakes affairs. It's one thing to take a risk on your own ordinary evening or that of a trusted arts-loving companion. It's another to pick out a Christmas show for a precious
 free night, snag tickets for multiple generations of the same crotchety family, and thus assume responsibility for everyone's happiness at a high-pressure time of the year. You can always spot those nervous folks: They're the ones who peek at the  show for a minute and then turn their heads, bite their nails and watch their families for most of the rest of the night.

The House Theatre's "The Nutcracker," which is better than ever this year under Tommy Rapley's direction, has a lot to offer those brave souls beyond its affordability. With a book by Phillip Klapperich and Jake Minton, it's a piece with unusually  broad appeal: Little kids get served cookies, and they can watch toys come to life and play in faux snow; older kids and teenagers can embrace the kind of Big Mythic Story With Death that this group tends to like; college students and
 20- or 30-somethings won't feel like they're in some terminally unhip setting (the Chopin Theatre is in Wicker Park and has a cool, urban gestalt); and most of those on the wrong side of middle age will appreciate the freshness, warmth
and concision of the show, as well as the wisdom of the message, which is about the ability of kids to work through their problems, assuming the adults in charge have learned how to get out of their way.

I've long thought the ideal holiday show not only has something for many generations but also won't swallow up your group in some massive, deadening spectacle, so that you all emerge, separately, blinking and slightly dazed, into the raw
 winter night, as if from a depersonalizing multiplex. This very personal, modestly scaled "Nutcracker" does not do that. Over the years I've watched families leave this show moving closer together. Not only is the theater small, it's set up
 in such a way that you can watch the people around you, which is a big part of the pleasure of this original theater piece.

House's "Nutcracker" is not the familiar ballet (although it does have Rapley's witty choreography and a live, mostly acoustic band playing Kevin O'Donnell's whimsical, free-form compositions). Rather, it's a contemporary story with music
about a young girl, Clara, who is taught by her Uncle Drosselmeyer how to vanquish the Rat King in her rich fantasy life, and also how to heal from the death of her real-life brother, Fritz, killed in a war we take to have been the one in Iraq.

To the chagrin of Clara's parents, who are in pain themselves, Uncle D (played by the aptly gruff Loren Lazerine, who famously drove the "Hellcab" 20 years ago but whose stage appearances have since been all too scarce) hands Clara
 a nutcracker who looks just like the real brother. And thus the toy can take the grieving girl on adventures — before teaching her how to fight the ones she will face in the future using only the weapons she has inside herself. There is no
child-catcher present nor other such villain of the piece: This is a story of good, kind, loving people, struggling with life's demands and learning to trust each other.

Ever since the House "Nutcracker" was first seen in 2007, I've expected some studio to option the yarn for a movie. It has many of the most desired components of some Tim Burton-like animated feature: It's moving, family-friendly,
 richly imaginative and distinctive. This year, it is also notably more truthful.

House Theater recently became an Actors' Equity-affiliated company, which has allowed them to cast the actress Brenda Barrie in the role of Clara's mother. Barrie greatly ups the emotional stakes of this role, offering a moving picture
of a woman bereaved, while still finding time to double as one of the rats. Benjamin Sprunger, who plays Clara's dad, is very solid too. So is Kevin Stangler, who has the tough assignment of playing a dead soldier come to life as a nutcracker,
but who greatly and crucially invests in the reality of his mission, which is to help his sister and loving parents live.

Paige Collins, who plays Clara, is one of those adult actresses who seem far younger than her years and thus ends up getting cast in a lot of roles like this one. But Collins, likely from experience, knows how to avoid the traps of playing
kids: Her Clara is very much a real, striving, vulnerable girl, and you find yourself greatly invested in her mission to save herself, her parents and the family Christmas from the rats in the walls
Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 11/24/12


Highly Recommended The Nutcracker, Dan Jakes, Chicago Reader 11/14/12 "During the holidays, you can't swing a candy cane without smacking somebody's rewrite of A Christmas Carol or It's a Wonderful Life.  Why shouldn't The Nutcracker get the same treatment? Here, adapters Jake Minton and Phillip Klapperich expand E.T.A Hoffman's classic  Christmas fable into the story of a family's return to normalcy after losing their son. House Theatre of Chicago has been staging this imaginative and inventive version since 2007, and since then, it's more than earned a place in the roster of exceptional Chicago holiday shows. I was teary-eyed in less than five minutes.  Director/choreographer Tommy Rapley provides a near-perfect staging featuring a live band and notable performances from Paige Collins as the doe-eyed Clara and Brenda Barrie as the grieving mother".

The Nutcracker - "The House’s kinetic take on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale, first seen at Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre in 2007, returns for a third annual outing at the Chopin. In Jake Minton and Phillip Klapperich’s recounting, young Clara
(Paige Collins at her spunkiest) and her parents await the homecoming of Clara’s older brother, Fritz, for their annual Christmas party; instead, they receive word that Fritz, a Marine, won’t be coming home again. The following
Christmas, Clara’s parents are numb with grief and skipping the party, until Clara’s great uncle Drosselmeyer (Loren Lazerine) arrives with a gift: a nutcracker that’s carved to look just like her brother. Soon the nutcracker and
Clara’s other  toys come to life to help her defeat the Christmas-hating Rat King and restore the holiday spirit to her house.   Collette Pollard’s clever in-the-round set design provides for multiple entrances and exits and a few
well-hidden surprises when Clara goes “into the walls” to confront the Rat King at the play’s climax. Director Tommy Rapley  admirably manages the heavy traffic, and Minton and Klapperich’s use of cast doubling feels particularly
rich in Brenda Barrie and Benjamin Sprunger’s turns both as Clara’s increasingly distant parents and the rat vanguard.   The play’s smattering of songs, composed by Kevin O’Donnell with lyrics by Minton, still feels as
 half-baked as Clara’s underdone cookies, but on the whole this Nutcracker is an engaging, family-friendly treat
. - Kris Vire, TimeOut Chicago 11/29/12

The Nutcracker - "Audiences expecting Tchaikovsky’s holiday perennial “The Nutcracker” would most likely be pleasantly surprised by the House Theatre’s version of the classic story. The names have been kept the same, though
identities have changed (if not to protect the innocent) and the story sharpened. This is not a Christmas spectacular, it is a Christmas story, at once smaller and richer than its more famous counterpart. Of course,  this show is not exactly new either. First performed in 2007, This “Nutcracker” is becoming something of a hip holiday tradition. Taking the classic story of Clara (Paige Collins) and her magical toy that comes to life, this version,  penned by Phillip Klapperich and  Jake Minton with music by Kevin O’Donnell, raises the stakes considerably. This Nutcracker (Kevin Strangler) is no longer just some gallant hero, but was carved by Clara’s uncle Drosselmeyer (Loren Lazerine) in the image of Clara’s  deceased, war hero brother, Fritz. On the one level, Christmas has been cancelled in Clara’s household (due to the her parents incredibly WASPy grief over  Fitz’s death) and it is now up to her and Fitz to save it. On the second level,  the entire family must come to grips with Fitz’s death. In the end, there are a number of well-earned tears to accompany the show’s belly laughs
by the barrelful. The cast is uniformly excellent, with a number of actors getting to pull double duty, especially Brenda Barrie and Benjamin Sprunger who portray Clara’s grieving parents in addition to a pair of deliciously evil (and British) rats. Their ability to leap back and forth between broad, slapstick comedy and emotionally  restrained realism were impressive indeed. And for those with young children in attendance, the actors come out before the show and during intermission to chat, have photos taken, etc. And if one doesn’t have children, never fear, because  this show is one of those rare few that can truly be enjoyed by all (and I do mean all) ages"
- Alex Huntsberger,

Highly Recommended "The Nutcracker" - "In the attic of your mind, where the boxes of Christmas spirit and warm family memories rest awaiting this special time of year, it’s time to rearrange and make room for a new holiday classic. Right there, between the one labeled Rankin-Bass  and Charlie Brown and above the box of cookie recipes and ornaments. The House Theatre’s reinvention of the classic The Nutcracker tale is a deliriously jolly blend of pathos, humor, and spectacular stagecraft wrapped in a bright paper package that left even this Christmas curmudgeon smiling like a Grinch whose heart just tripled in size.  In an opulent mansion of the present day, an annual Christmas party is getting underway, with various relatives arriving and thrilling to the sight of the splendid house bedecked for the season. A banner over the window welcomes home a wayward guest, Fritz (Kevin Stangler), returning from a conflict abroad. Their festive reveries are turned to sadness when a folded flag and sword arrive in place of the beloved son and brother.

Flash forward one year. Little sister Clara (Paige Collins), her father David (Benjamin Sprunger) and mother Martha (Brenda Barrie) drift about the grand estate, still in a state of mourning and unable to hang even a sprig of mistletoe.
Their infamous party is canceled, but no one told the irascible old wanderer Uncle Drosselmeyer. He might just be what the holidays ordered, however. His gift of a nutcracker in the likeness of Fritz begins a magical journey for the young
 Clara to reclaim not just the spirit of Christmas, but to repair the rifts her brother’s absence has left in her family. At the chime of the bells, he springs back to life, ready to help Clara defeat the evil rats that nest in the darkness between walls
 and want to keep the brightness of the season at bay forever. Aided by her sock monkey (Johnny Arena), mechanical idea-bot Hugo (Brandon Ruiter) and ditzy dolly Phoebe (Christine Perkins), they’ll fight for their right to cookies, trees,
 and the power of light over dark.

HouseTheatreTheNutcracker Lets Make Cookies byMichaelBrosilow 2012 266x400 The NutcrackerHouse Theatre previously enchanted me with their revival of Death and Harry Houdini, and that tradition only continues with this marvelous  revival production (originally produced in 2007). It’s a kind of meta-humor, expert timing, puppetry, music, and just downright fun energy that I have only previously experienced with those other master craftsmen, the Neo-Futurists. Calling out any one performance is so difficult because this entire ensemble is brimming with chemistry in a big warm holiday hug that melds together to the point that separating any of them would be like taking a key ingredient from your mom’s cookies.

 It does behoove me however to call out Paige Collins’ Clara. She’s the sugary sweetness in this confection, with a resplendent voice and a perfectly balanced projection of vulnerability and resolve. Everyone gets a chance to twinkle with
their talent, with most doing whiplash-fast double duty. Barrie and Sprunger are not just the mournful parents but a dynamic duo of devilry as the scary rats (with British accents, no less, and why not?), while the trio of Arena, Perkins,
and Ruiter provide a comic relief of larger-than-life proportions as Fritz and Clara’s army of misfit toys. Stangler is perhaps the most heartbreaking as the ersatz brother brought from beyond, and his brotherly love for his sister and the
 painful necessity of letting him go provide the critical emotional roots.

Minton and Klapperich’s adapted book blends silliness with sorrow, and there are some dark moments as every true fairy tale requires butted up next to zany moments of gut busting comedy for both children and adults. Puppet work
brings a spunky teddy bear (also Sprunger) and some chillingly huge rats to life, while set design by Collette Pollard is one of the best in-the-round sets I’ve ever witnessed (its transformation in the second act is stunning with help from
 lighting designer Lee Keenan). Composer Kevin O’Donnell (with lyrics by Minton) have blended traditional holiday scores with a modern sensibility to create a new set of carols and some heartbreaking ballads.

In a sea of overproduced television movies that just manufacture their so-called ‘magic’ in bulk, The Nutcracker is an authentic piece of real life Christmas cheer pitched right at the sweet spot of transformative spectacle and
enthralling tale. This is one spellbinding tradition I hope The House Theatre lets Chicago continue keeping every year, if only to remind us—as Uncle Drosselmeyer states with a deadpan sobriety—”Magic is real.”
- Clint May,

based on the Story by E.T.A. Hoffman; book by Phillip Klapperich and Jake Minton

Directed and Choreographed by Tommy Rapley

Johnny Arena; Paige Collins; Kevin Stangler; Brenda Barrie; Benjamin Sprunger ; Brandon Ruiter; Loren Lazerine; Christine Perkins

Set Design - Collette Pollard; Costume Designers - Debbie Baer and Mieka van der Ploeg; Light Design - Lee Keenan; Composition - Kevin O'Donnell; Sound Designers - Michael Griggs and Harrison Adams; Puppet Design - Dan Kerr-Hobart.

Tags: Theater, American, 2012