4 out of 4 stars
Suspend your imagination for an evening with Mary Zimmerman’s The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass Theatre this holiday season. Based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen, Zimmerman’s family-friendly performance transforms the classic tale into a visual and poetic journey. The original fairy tale by Andersen is about a tin soldier’s perilous adventures and his love for a paper ballerina.
Sitting among a crowd of families with young children and older couples, I felt a bit emotional at the fact that my normal adult guise fell wayside because the little girl’s excitement and sitting on the edge of her seat completely engaged in the action on stage was contagious. A pantomime is a silent play mainly geared towards children that involves music, slap-stick comedy and usually based on a fairy tale or nursery story. Since there are no words, costume design, lighting and movement are key in portraying the plot. Ensemble Member Tracy Walsh blended with circus choreography from Artistic Associate Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi do a wonderful job in creating a lighthearted and emotional pull through their attention to detail.
The beginning set illustrates key elements of the story before your eyes in the form of a mural story book outlining the stage, while an advent calendar wall is slowly opened by the playful clowns. The art style is timeless with victorian style icons hidden behind each door. Todd Rosenthal’s scenic design plays upon victorian illustrations, a contrasted color palette with muted traditionally Christmas tones and classical lighting cues/design by TJ Gerckens to broaden and focus the eye. Making things larger than life is definitely a group effort for this creative team, as use of color and size ratios provide whimsy to Zimmerman’s production.
Zimmerman is a writer and director and has worked with Lookingglass for more than 25 years, as well as has credits with Goodman Theatre and other theaters world wide on top of a previous MacArthur Fellowship and Tony Award Winner for Best Director of a Play for Metamorphoses on Broadway. In the playbill interview with Zimmerman, she describes her process for this work was evolutionary in writing while in rehearsals. Establishing the base for the script the night before, Zimmerman works with the actors and creative team to encompass the best work that stands apart. The audience’s perspective is challenged and transported through dimensional space through the astounding use of puppetry designed by Blair Thomas and Tom Lee. The audience sees the baby’s perspective when a giant paper-mâché baby head and hands are navigated by three actors on stage playing with regular size tin soldiers. Then quickly we are pulled into the actual world perspective with strict cleaning nanny and toddler size puppet of the child before the lens pushes down further into the realm of toys where we meet our steadfast tin solider.
Anthony Irons (Goblin) is incredibly hilarious and a joy to watch. I particularly got a kick out of Irons’s facial expressions while portraying the happy go lucky blue collar man carrying a rain cloud and the bratty older brother. This was Irons first show as a recently named Lookingglass Artistic Associate. The cast also includes Artistic Associates Christopher Donahue, who wonderfully portrays the Nursemaid. A classically burly archetype that is humorous in contrasting strictness with the playfulness of the overall production. The other core actors are Kasey Foster (Ballerina), John Gregorio (Rat) and Alex Stein (Steadfast Tin Soldier). Each one illustrates wonderfully with their facial expression and attention to movement. Stein’s character only has one leg and rather than going method the costuming by Ana Kuzmanic cleverly not only blacks one pant leg, but includes the written word ‘Missing’ down the side.
From beginning to end, I had a smile on my face. This joyous production is surely an evening for all ages. I highly recommend treating yourself and your loved ones to experience the laughs and wisdom the Steadfast Tin Soldier has to offer this holiday season.
The Stead Fast Tin Soldier plays now through January 13, 2019 at Lookingglass Theatre (located inside Chicago’s Historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave at Pearson). For more information and to purchase tickets, please visit lookingglasstheatre.org or call 312-337-0665.
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!