The House Theatre of Chicago makes the holidays both merry AND a little bit scary with their annual stage return of their version of "The Nutcracker," now in its fourth annual production.
This year was my first time every seeing the production.
It's billed as a "family-friendly" original play by Company Members Jake Minton and Phillip Klapperich and music by Kevin O'Donnell. But make no mistake that there are some dark twists and turns, all always ending with a fun and lighter final result.
It began performances Nov. 9 at The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division St., Chicago and you only have until Dec. 30 to see it before it wraps for another year. And instead of audience members issued seating tickets, each person gets a "Keepsake cardboard tree ornament." (Mine was shaped like a rat.)
Based on the original classic story by E.T.A. Hoffman, it's directed and choreographed by Tommy Rapley.
This year, it stars company member Johnny Arena with guest artists Brenda Barrie, Paige Collins, Loren Lazerine, Brandon Ruiter, Christine Perkins, Benjamin Sprunger and Kevin Stangler.
The Production Team consists of company members Collette Pollard (Scenic), Debbie Baer (Costumes), Lee Keenan (Lights), Michael Griggs (Sound) with guest artists Harrison Adams (Associate Sound), Mieka van der Ploeg (Associate Costumes), Dan Kerr-Hobart (Puppets) and Sarah Hoeferlin (Stage Management).
The House's fantastical expansion of this holiday classic centers on young Clara's journey to rescue Christmas. With the help of a magical Nutcracker, this brave little girl fights the Rat King to save her family. This modern holiday production weaves together some astonishing and frightening puppetry with original song and special effects.
Several actors familiar to audiences at The House appear in the Chicago production, as well as some new guest artists. Company Member Arena (recently seen in "Death and Harry Houdini") makes a playful appearance as Monkey. Collins (who over does it a bit on the "little girl voice") takes on the role of young Clara. Stangler (also seen recently in "Death and Harry Houdini") assumes the titular role of Fritz, the nutcracker. As an Equity company, The House has Brenda Barrie the cast in the dual roles as Martha, Clara's mother, and Really Scary Rat. She's the standout talent who ranked as my favorite of this show.
Sprunger plays David, Clara's Father, and Barrie's counterpart, including his dual role as Quite Scary Rat. Ruiter takes a funny turn as Hugo, the toy robot. The cast is rounded out with Lazerine as Drosselmeyer, and Perkins as Phoebe, the doll.
Tickets are $25 and $35 at thehousetheatre.com or (773) 769-3832, $10 student and "industry rush."