Post image for Chicago Theater Review: THE STEADFAST TIN SOLDIER: A CHRISTMAS PANTOMIME (Lookingglass)

by Lawrence Bommer on November 22, 2018

in Theater-Chicago


This “soldier” is well worth saluting: There’s an enchanting Christmas Pantomime on Michigan Avenue — Lookingglass Theatre Company’s jewel-box of a holiday divertissement. Transformed by music, dance and spectacle more than by words and lyrics, The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale from 1838, is the perfect recipient for director Mary Zimmerman’s multifaceted magic. We’re treated to pretty and playful processions, whiplash alterations in scale and size, and an ever-ornamentalizing imagination that sees consummate textures, patterns, and resonances in everything on stage. Zimmerman’s open-eyed dreams are always deliciously detailed.

In only one hour, five “zanies,” dolled up in Ana Kuzmanic’s properly pictorial costumes (as well as four musicians in court costume and perruques), enact some very potent make-believe. It all transpires beneath Todd Rosenthal’s elegant 18th-century proscenium, a Mozartean marvel in itself.

Initially, we see a giant replica of an Advent calendar with pop-up “Cornell boxes” for each date leading to Christmas. As the final “window” is opened, we see a model of Andersens’s one-legged tin soldier, standing at attention, ready to begin his adventure.

It’s a tale of unrequited love between two marvelous misfits: the toy Soldier (Alex Stein), whose mold ran out of metal before he could get a second leg, and a paper Ballerina (Kasey Foster) who, according to the original, also has only one leg and wears a large spangle. Despite their different materials, the toys were clearly made for each other. By the end they find themselves consumed by love (and fire).

Along the way Zimmerman pulls out all her proverbial stops, displaying or depicting letter blocks, dollhouses, giant puppets, silhouettes, silent-movie buffoonery, circus acrobatics, a potbelly stove, silken waves, and other delights.

Like the characters in Toy Story, our steadfast tin soldier and his inamorata (who’s always “en pointe”) come to life. But they’re soon separated, partly due to a little boy’s shenanigans and the negligence of an indifferent Nursemaid (Christopher Donahue). But the lovers’ chief nemesis is a jack-in-the-box Goblin (Anthony Irons), who schemes to have the dancer for himself. There’s also a Rat (John Gregorio) who functions as a toll-demanding passport supervisor to impede the soldier’s return to his beloved.

Thrown from a windowsill and discarded by two local brats, our tiny warrior travels through the gutter and into a storm drain, helpless in his paper boat. True to the unthinking fate that propels the action, our Steadfast Tin Soldier’s nautical odyssey ends with the soldier consumed by a giant fish.

When the Nursemaid clumsily flirts with a fishmonger, the soldier is miraculously restored to his household, the flounder is cut open, and the lost sentry is rediscovered. But the terrible little boy, perhaps instigated by the malicious goblin, throws him into the fire where he’s joined by Ballerina, cruelly cast by the wind. They’re finally united, joined together — tin, paper and spangle — and melted into a heart as black as coal.

Written by composers Andre Pluess and Amanda Dehnert, a final chorus — the only text in the production — praises the soldier for his fidelity to his dream love, despite his enervating passivity and stupid stoicism, and wishes us all a similar steadfastness. We should be so true to our trusts.

A fit compliment to the nicest Noel, this captivating, storytelling “music box” fantasy bursts with theatrical wonders in full flower. An elaborate extravaganza to feast the senses and sweeten the soul, The Steadfast Tin Soldier is pure confection.

You just have to go through the Lookingglass.

photos by Liz Lauren

The Steadfast Tin Soldier
Lookingglass Theatre Company
Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan
ends on January 13, 2019
for tickets, call 312.337.0665 or visit Lookingglass

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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