Burlesque, as it is commonly defined, is a format of variety show entertainment that often features bawdy comedy and artful stripteases. The art form became popular in the U.S. between 1860 and 1940, with artists touring the country appearing in clubs, theaters, and cabarets. A night of burlesque would often include songs, comedians, specialty acts, and exotic dances.
The Nutcracker Suite is a holiday tradition for many families. Mothers and fathers throughout the decades have indoctrinated children into the world of ballet with this historic piece of entertainment.
In 1890 composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky was commissioned to write a double bill program of opera and ballet based on The Nutcracker and the Mouse King by E.T.A. Hoffman. The original production was choreographed by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov. The first complete performance outside of Russia occurred in 1934 in the U.K; the first complete U.S. staging was in 1944 by the San Francisco Ballet. The Nutcracker has since become a holiday mainstay around the world.
Embracing the belief that adults deserve their own inclusive version of the classic story, The Buttcracker: A Nutcracker Burlesque is now playing through December 31st at Chicago’s Greenhouse Theater Center. Since its debut in 2016, this delicious comic ballet and variety show is just what Santa would recommend for all the over 18 crowd on his good list. Those on Santa’s bad list will probably love it too, they just don’t get to have as good of seats. And good or bad, you still have to be 21 or over to drink.
The bawdy comedy burlesque stays faithful to the traditional storyline of The Nutcracker, but transports the tale into a hallucinogenic LGTBQ+ world where the body and sex positivity are celebrated.
Clara is having a boring time at her holiday office party, but thanks to the medical supplements of the magical Drosselmeyer she is swept away to a dream world where all things are possible.
Clara is nicely played by Elena Avila, while Drosselmeyer is captivatingly portrayed by Claire Francescon. They are complimented by the luscious and alluring Baby Bagos Hood as the Rat King and eternal ray of sunshine Autumn Christensen as the Sugar Bum Fairy.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
The show, however, belongs to Olivia Lindsay as the Buttcracker. Our hero rescues Clara from the evil Rat King and showers her with the love and affection she deserves. The entire cast is exceptionally talented, but Lindsay has a certain “It Factor” that transcends the piece. She is just fun to watch.
There is also a troupe of four ensemble dancers who keep the show moving at a lively pace. Hannah Silverman, Mandyn Mueller, Eilish Morse-O’Rourke, and Yasmyne Williams are just a joy to digest. Mueller’s tap dancing is the stuff of legends.
Tucked away lovingly in the midst of this ballet are five burlesque acts: Vodka, Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, and Mother Ginger. To keep the show fresh and encourage audiences to come back week after week, the theater rotates different burlesque headliners in these five roles each weekend. The diverse talents include everything from belly dancers to sword swallowing to classic vaudeville era peek-a-poo stripteases.
For the performance being reviewed, Vodka was portrayed by burlesque legend Lady Ginger doing a thrilling traditional routine. As Coffee, Lee Na-Moo absolutely hypnotized the audience with amazing lyrical dance skills and body control. Slightly Spitfire provided an enjoyable gymnastic demonstration with touches of magic as Tea. Armed with power tools and a metal G-string, Jezzibel was a fan favorite who literally made sparks fly as Chocolate. Mother Ginger was lovingly brought to life by Millie May with an old-fashioned tassel-twirling exhibition.
The theatre features a full bar in the lobby and a partial bar in the upstairs performance space. Drinking is not frowned upon, and tipping the performers is highly encouraged.
The Buttcracker: A Nutcracker Burlesque is wonderfully directed by Miguel Long, who previously performed in the show. His directorial instincts are heavenly. Choreography by Dylan Kerr is just plain astounding.
Adding immensely to the production is the enchanting and colorful costuming by Brighid Martensen. Martensen has the performers looking supremely sexy, yet always in character.
Lighting designer Samuel Stephen deserves to be singled out for his amazing job. He puts on a light show that would be worthy of any top tier rock concert. If I was mounting a musical in the city, Samuel Stephen would be my first call to design the light plot.
Also on the commendable production team are set designer Gabrielle Strong, props designer Rowan Doe, sound designer Michael Bulaw, stage manager Jake Snell, backstage manager Carlie Rummel, magic consultant Kayla Drescher, producer Jaq Seifert/(sub)version productions, and producing assistant Caylei Hallberg. Also in the cast are swing Savannah Sinclair and ensemble understudy Sierra Buffum.
BUY YOUR TICKETS NOW
The Buttcracker runs through December 31st with performances at 8 PM on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays and 3 PM on Sundays. The Dec. 31st New Years Eve performance is at 9 PM and includes a party after the show. The Greenhouse Theatre is located at 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
If you are looking for a fun, alternative way to cut loose while still staying in the holiday spirit, The Buttcracker is the event of the season you must experience. You will have a blast. I give it a big thumbs up recommendation.
Tickets are available at www.GreenHouseTheatre.org or www.TheButtcrackerBurlesque.com. While tickets are available at the door, the show is often playing to sold out audiences so advanced reservations are recommended.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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This year, I had the great pleasure of appearing in the hilarious Paul Rudnick comedy I Hate Hamlet for Elgin Theatre Company in the greater Chicago area. To our great honor, I Hate Hamlet has been nominated for seven prizes in the 2022 Broadway World Chicago Theatre Awards
- Best Direction of a Play – Regina Belt-Daniels
- Best Ensemble Performance
- Best Play
- Best Performer in a Play – Rikki Lee Travolta
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – Trace Gamache
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – Travis Greuel
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – David Gasior
If you want to voice your support for the Elgin Theatre Company production of I Hate Hamlet, you can cast your vote at: https://www.broadwayworld.com/chicago/voteregion.cfm