A tale of two Nutcrackers: Joffrey Ballet and The House Theatre

Tis the season for winter classics and Chicago is nuts with Nutcrackers. But like those mixed bowls where the good ones get gobbled up, not all nuts or Nutcrackers are created equal. There’s a plethora of Nutcracker productions to choose from and we’ve seen many over the years, from Nutcracker on horseback to extravagant ballets and tiny storefront productions. Here at ChiIL Out, we’re featuring two of our absolute favorites of the 2011 season. These are two extremely different takes on this timeless tale, and both are excellent and highly recommended.

This year, ChiIL Mama has exclusive dress rehearsal footage and video interviews with cast kids from the #1 Nutcracker in the nation by Joffrey Ballet. They’re performing at Auditorium Theatre through December 27th. We have our show review, original and production photos, and a great group interview.

We love to feature creative kids from the greater Chicago area. Click the link to hear how these talented, young ballerinas get rid of the pre-show jitters, how young they were when they began ballet, how long they’ve practiced to be in Joffrey’s Nutcracker, and some wise advice to other kids who wish they were in these lucky girls’ ballet shoes.

This is THE Nutcracker to see, for a larger than life, full blown, ballet version with the original score, expertly performed by a full orchestra. Joffrey has updated and enhanced the setting in fabulous ways, but this production remains true to the original score, script and choreography. Check out our in depth coverage here.

We also adore The House Theatre’s Nutcracker, and evidently so do many others as their shows have been selling out and they’ve added additional dates twice now.

ChiIL Mama highly recommends this production as a great, family friendly experience. Check out our past coverage here for a video and show description.

I’ve seen a number of versions of The Nutcracker over the years, ranging from the classic ballet in ornate symphony centers, complete with chandeliers, to the free and fabulous, DIY Dance Along Nutcracker at The Cultural Center. However, this is undoubtedly my favorite. This funky, edgy, urban update is entirely welcome in a season of saccharine sweet holiday productions.

The plot is darker than the original, with the death of Clara’s older brother, who was a Marine, and her subsequent haunting. And the rat king scene is intense, with giant multi-headed rat puppets and three of the set walls cracking open. Even Sagezilla, who is a pretty fearless 8-year-old, closed her eyes and clung tightly to me. My 10-year-old son was a bit creeped out, but did watch the whole scene. After the show, though, both kids were very enthusiastic about the production and both said they loved it.

Purists, should know there is no ballet in this version, and all the old, familiar songs are gone. But the new songs are wonderfully creative, and the depth and emotion of this multifaceted production makes it a compelling and completely unique take on this classic holiday tale. You’ll even get to take home a paper ornament for your tree: a globe, a bell, or maybe even a RAT, if you’re lucky. Check out our fulll, photo filled review here.

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