Monday, November 26, 2018

REVIEW: The House Theatre’s Nutcracker playing through December 30th, 2018

ChiIL Mama's ChiIL Picks List: Top Family Friendly Holiday Theatre Productions
The House Theatre's "Ballet Free" Nutcracker 

Photo Credit: Kimberly Robb Baker

Guest Review:
by Kimberly Robb Baker

The House Theatre’s Nutcracker is a loving, poignant and joyful experience for family members of all ages.  

I attended with my 10-year-old son, 8-year-old daughter and ageless mother. The production was a hit with all three generations and one we’re sure to return to in coming years. Though we love Tchaikovsky, it didn’t bother us a bit that this was a ballet-free version. In fact, the absence of toe shoes—along with an innovative book/adaptation by Jake Minton, Phillip Klapperich, Kevin O’Donnell, and Tommy Rapley—made the story accessible for audiences looking for less formal entertainment.

All production photos by Michael Brosilow

There was dancing and singing of a musical theatre variety, including an opening number which made the small cast seem like one several times its size. There were cookies and laughter and gasps—also moments so still I could hear many others quietly weeping and know I wasn’t the only one who was touched by the performance.

Hailey Bolithon as Clara and Desmond Gray as her brother (and nutcracker) Fritz were the emotional anchors of the story. Clara’s love for Fritz and desire to rescue Christmas from the ratty little teeth of grief are compelling, as are Clara and Fritz’s connected sibling relationship and powerful singing voices.

Ben Hertel (Hugo, the Robot), Johnny Arena (Sock Monkey) and Rachel Shapiro (Phoebe, the doll--the favorite of both the kids) round out Clara’s posse with humor and warmth that balance the sadness, anger, and tension of her parents, deftly played by Nicholas Bailey and Amanda de la Guardia. Rom Barkhordar was enchanting as Clara’s eccentric uncle, and all “adult” actors played double-duty as convincing rats that were scary enough to startle, but portrayed within a cartoonish reality in which death is but a temporary inconvenience.

The snow play at intermission was tremendous fun and gave the kids a chance to get their wiggles out before the second half.

Photo Credit: Kimberly Robb Baker

This was our first time seeing the show, but I’m told there are new musical pieces added this year that further enhance the production many have come to love.

The House Theatre is appropriately named. A homey hospitality defined our time there from the self-accompanied singer on the lower level to the warm welcome from the ushers and even a parting gift of stationary kids could use to write to the characters with a guarantee of hearing back from them.

The sense of intimacy and family was cemented in its theatre-in-the-round setup as well as actors and ushers who interacted with the audience before and during the show.

Nutcracker will be playing through December 30th.

Kimberly Robb Baker is a Chicago based writer, blogger, consultant, story teller, and mother. 
You can find her worky stuff here: and her artsy fartsy stuff here:

ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar: 
The House Theatre's Nutcracker 

The House Theatre of Chicago's all-original, ballet-free and family-friendly production of The Nutcracker has been a family favorite of ours for years. The kids love to play in the fake snow at intermission, making snow angels on stage, and having snow fights. Toys come to life to sing and dance, and even the scary parts are fun, with a giant, multi headed rat puppet to be battled inside of cracking walls. We love that the nutcracker is a hero Marine in real life, who makes the ultimate sacrifice and returns to come to life each night and battle beside his sister. We also love that the main character is a brave girl and a rockin' role model who fights not only giant rats, but grief and loss as well. You may think you've seen The Nutcracker story many times before, but you've never seen it like THIS. Highly recommended. 



*NOTE: special family events on Nov. 25th and Dec. 2nd!

Sunday, Nov 25, 1pm - 4:30pm 
Family Day offers "extras" for our younger guests ages 5+. Come early for kids' crafts including cookie decorating from our partners at Whole Foods Lakeview. Watch the 2pm matinee, and then join in a talkback for kids after the show lead by teen reviewer Ada Grey!

Sunday, Dec 2, 2pm - 5pm 
Relaxed/Sensory-Friendly performances welcome everyone to attend the production in a safe, non-judgmental space. Stage lights and sounds are dimmed, and house lights are dimmed but remain on. Guests can come and go from the audience as needed - we’ll provide quiet spaces in the lobby. We aim to ease the experience for those with sensory sensitivities, very young children, and anyone who would benefit from more leeway as an audience member. Before the show, the stage, lobby, puppets, and actors will be available to help everyone get acclimated.

Use code ACCESS for $20 tickets for this show.

Tommy Rapley Returns to Direct The House Theatre of Chicago’s 
Annual Performance of The Nutcracker

The House Theatre of Chicago brings back the hit holiday production with its annual engagement of The Nutcracker, an all-original, ballet-free and family-friendly production playing at The Chopin Theatre upstairs theatre, 1543 W. Division, November 8 – December 30. Company Members Jake Minton, Phillip Klapperich, Kevin O’Donnell and Tommy Rapley created the adaptation based on E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story with original direction and choreography by Tommy Rapley. 

The regular performance schedule is Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m. with an added Sunday 6 p.m. performance on December 9, 16 and 23. Note: There are no performances on Nov. 9 or 17 and there are additional added performances on Friday, Nov. 23 at 3 p.m., and Wednesday, Dec. 19.

Regular run tickets $30 – $50. Student and industry same-day discounted tickets are available for $20 for all dates, based on availability. Tickets may be purchased by calling 773.769.3832 or by visiting

The House’s unique take on this classic story has become an annual tradition for many offering something for everyone during the holiday season. The show is fast-paced, beautifully choreographed, family-friendly and moving for even those who might be on the Grinch’s side from time to time.

This fantastical expansion of the holiday classic centers on Clara’s journey to save Christmas in the face of grief. With the help of a magical nutcracker, the brave girl risks the darkness, fights the Rat King and saves her family. A modern holiday tradition weaving together riveting dialogue, astonishing puppetry, original songs and spellbinding spectacle to tell a heartwarming, darkly moving story of magic and hope — a meaningful outing fit for the whole family.

The House’s production of The Nutcracker is adapted from “The Nutcracker and the Mouse,” a story by E.T.A. Hoffmann by Jake Minton, Phillip Klapperich, Kevin O’Donnell, and Tommy Rapley. The production premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 2007 under the Visiting Company Initiative and has enjoyed highly acclaimed runs with The House since 2010, as well as productions in Miami. In 2016, The House revamped the show during a workshop at the Chicago Performance Lab. Repeat fans will notice the addition of new musical pieces and new audience members continued to delight in the production’s creativity and heart 

The 2018 ensemble features many returning faces including Company Members Ben Hertel as Hugo, the Robot, and Johnny Arena as Monkey. Also returning are Desmond Gray as Fritz, the Nutcracker, Rachel Shapiro as Phoebe, the doll, Nicholas Bailey as David and Quite Scary Rat, and Amanda de la Guardia as Martha and Really Scary Rat. New to the cast are Rom Barkhordar as Uncle Drosslemeyer and Really Quite Scary Rat, and in the leading role, actress Hailey Bolithon (recently starring in Hatfield & McCoy) plays Clara. 

All production photos by Michael Brosilow


The House is Chicago's premier home for intimate, original works of epic story and stagecraft. Founded and led by Artistic Director Nathan Allen and driven by an interdisciplinary ensemble of Chicago’s next generation of great storytellers, The House aims to become a laboratory and platform for the evolution of the American theatre as an inclusive and popular artform.

The House was founded in 2001 by a group of friends to explore connections between Community and Storytelling through a unique theatrical experience. Since becoming eligible in 2004, The House has won 22 Joseph Jefferson Awards, became the first recipient of Broadway in Chicago’s Emerging Theater Award in 2007, and was awarded a 2014 National Theatre Company Grant by the American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tony Awards. The 17th season of original work is underway and The House will continue its mission to unite Chicago in the spirit of Community through amazing feats of Storytelling.  

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