December 8, 2005


 “A Nutcracker Christmas”  Call or check Web site for times. Ages 3 and up. $12, $9 kids 12 and under. Performances at the Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. (773) 935-6100,

This is a great holiday outing for families with preschoolers. “A Nutcracker Christmas” at Emerald City Theatre is a new adaptation of the classic holiday story by the award-winning team of G. Riley Mills and Ralph Covert, of Ralph’s World fame. They’ve modernized the story to make Fritz (the fantastically believable actor Noah Durham) a level-22 player of Mouse Hunter 5000--video-game skills which he uses to help the Nutcracker hunt down the Mouse King. At just more than one hour, Mills and Covert keep the show running smoothly, with modern twists, including a female Nutcracker, solidly played by Sarah Ball. Covert has written some great new music, including the showstopper “Let’s Ruin Christmas,” performed with perfect sneering gusto by Andy Rothenberg as the Mouse King. Not all the cast members are up to the challenge of Covert’s music, and there were a few sour notes in the beginning. But solos by Fritz, the Mouse King and the Mayor (a hilarious George Howe) are great and keep the show alive. From the top of the show, Clara (Ginny Moore) breaks the fourth wall by waving to audience members and asking them questions. This interaction invests small children in the story immediately. By the time the audience chants of “Merry Christmas” defeat the Mouse King, kids are thrilled with themselves and the play.

Preschoolers will not have any trouble following the plot line, although there are some characters that seem to come out of nowhere. Neither my children nor I could understand the purpose or characterizations of the Sugar Plum Fairies, who seemed to serve only as stagehands. And while Paige Jarvie is lovely as the Ballerina, we didn’t understand why or how she got there. Still, there is enough humor and energy to overlook the slight missteps. Emerald City goes the extra mile to make live theater memorable for kids, including supplying kid-sized programs with Nutcracker-themed puzzles and games. Audience members can also meet the actors after the show, an experience which blew my 5-year-old’s mind. Alena Murguia


Desperately seeking Magna Tiles. Toy test update

If you caught Chicago Parent’s fourth annual totally unscientific toy test in the December issue of the magazine, then you know, the top-pick of the hundreds of school children who tested our toys was: Magna Tiles.

But, our readers tell us, it’s hard to find.

So, the LaGrange-based manufacturers, Valtech Co., agreed to post on its Web site,, the names of the stores that carry the toy.

Here’s what we wrote in our story:“Magna-Tiles. The geometrically shaped magnetic tiles are great for preschoolers and just as engaging for older kids, even much older kids (a college-age Chicago Parent intern couldn’t stop playing with the set we had in the office). This toy has long been a staple for schools such as Pilgrim Community Nursery School in Oak Park. And Kristin Larsen, former kindergarten teacher at McCarty Elementary School in Aurora, says, ‘There’s such an unlimited use for them. They can turn them into whatever they want.’ “

For our other picks, see our toy test package of stories. Susy Schultz

Theater  Kids A, Parents A  “Hairspray” Check the Web sit for show times. Ticket prices range from $37.50 to $82.50. Cadillac Palace, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago. Through Dec. 18.

My friend who came to the show with us, had the right word, “Joyous.”  It’s energetic, fun and a visually exciting adventure for kids from the dancing and singing to the costumes and staging. Plus, it’s got a great message—up with individual aspirations, down with racial and physical discrimination. Set in 1962 Baltimore, this is the story of Tracy Turnblad, who wants more than anything to dance on her favorite television show. She is the Little Engine that Could, as is this musical, which surprised the theater community when it won eight Tony awards in 2003.  It depends on your child, but this is probably good for kids 8 and up. There are a few sexual innuendos, such as the mention of a condom that may go over their head or cause you to answer a few questions. But they are not a problem. Susy Schultz

   “A Christmas Carol” Goodman Theatre. Check Web site for schedule. No shows Thanksgiving or Christmas. Through Dec. 26. Ages 6 and up. $20-$65. 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. (312) 443-3800, From start to finish, this was a magical night of holiday theater. It is not kid’s theater, but it is theater that is delightful for kids. (Warning: Jacob Marley’s entrance and the future ghost’s segment are intense. So, use parental judgment when it comes to bringing young children. The play, intermission included, runs two hours. If your child can sit that long, it’s a good gauge. And if you have a very sensitive child, make sure you explain that while there are scary things that happen in this play, everything turns out very good for everyone.)  Susy Schultz

Holiday  Christkindlmarket Chicago Daley Plaza. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday-Thursday. 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday-Saturday. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Through Dec. 22. Families. Free. Extra costs for food. Washington Street between Clark and Dearborn streets., Chicago. (312) 644-2662, This is the 10th year for the market and is just a lovely way to spend an afternoon or an evening. Wander through this open-air market, modeled after the Nuremberg Christmas market. It’s open seven days a week and admission is free. You can make it a cheap wander through the interesting tented shops or you can bring your bills and do some heavy duty holiday shopping for all sorts of unique gifts. My kids were fascinated by the glass blowing and enjoyed the food from schnitzel and brats to giant pretzels and hot chocolate. There’s something special about eating outdoors while wandering through the market. You can also look at the city’s official Christmas tree, the signature Picasso sculpture and the train set-up in the plaza. Susy Schultz

Journey to Bethlehem  First Baptist Church of Oak Park, 820 Ontario St., Oak Park. 6-8 p.m., Dec 10 and 11. No matter what holiday you celebrate, this is an interesting way to see the story of why so many people celebrate Dec. 25. This live outdoor Nativity is the gift of the First Baptist Church of Oak Park and runs along Ontario Street, just west of Oak Park Avenue in the west suburb. The church community plays the roles and there is also a large animal cast, including a two-humped camel, a donkey, a sheep, a goat and two llamas. The street is blocked off and people can wander the five stages, which tell the story of Mary and Joseph getting the news of their child coming, all the way to his birth in a stable in Bethlehem. There was wonder in my boys’ eyes for this display when they were little. Mostly it is the amazing site of a camel wandering the suburban streets. As the years have gone on, I’ve had to drag the crew here. But they always remember it and they are always glad they went. This is free and the church hands out complimentary cups of hot chocolate as well. Susy Schultz

 John Hancock Observatory Holiday Railroad John Hancock Observatory, 875 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago. 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Through Jan. 1.

Young kids (and the young at heart) will marvel at the Hancock’s intricate winter display, which features about a dozen trains running over, around and through three landscaped and snow-capped mountains. With its array of lights, figurines and Chicago landmarks, viewing the scenes with your children is like playing a game of "I Spy.” Toddlers will be captivated, but tweens and teens might lose interest. It's not worth making a trip to Michigan Avenue just to see the trains, but if you're going to be shopping on the Mag Mile, it’s definitely worth a stop on the tour. It'll be a treat for the youngsters who have been dragged from store to store in sub-zero temperatures. Enter the lower concourse through the front of the building, and if possible, try to avoid the weekend traffic. The Hancock also has a huge, lit tree out in front that makes for a great photo opportunity.  Teresa Dankowski

Kids Eat Chicago

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