Chicago Theater Review: THE STEADFAST TIN SOLDIER (Lookingglass)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 7, 2019

in Theater-Chicago


It’s now become a holiday classic, Mary Zimmerman’s gorgeous The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass Theatre. It was glorious last year. It’s lost no luster since. In only one fantasy-rich hour this superb illusionist, the toast of Lookingglass and Goodman theaters and the Metropolitan Opera, distills all the warm worth out of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale. We’re taken deep into the dreams and the doomed love of a one-legged toy soldier (Alex Stein) for a beautiful ballerina.

It’s performed beneath the elegant proscenium of a jewel-box theater and the drop-curtain  of an Advent calendar. Defying a predatory Goblin (Anthony Irons), an officious Rat (John Gregorio), and a pompous Nursemaid (Joe Dempsey), this stalwart warrior undergoes adventures inside of a giant fish, the sewers of Copenhagen, and finally a furnace.

What remains remarkable about Zimmerman’s matchless make-believe is her use of rapid-fire changes of scale and pace. The title hero keeps changing size and stature as the plot thickens, while a five-member court orchestra mirrors in music every change in his ever-evolving fate. (The supple score is by Andrew Pluess and Amanda Dehnert.)

And, except for a final chorus that praises the soldier’s legacy of loyalty, Soldier is done as a dumb show, a combination of Christmas pantomime and silent movie. Extravagant and exhilarating, it’s impossible to imagine 60 minutes more packed with spectacle, pageant, wizardry and joy.

Zimmerman particularly wants to appeal to children, “gathering up the story through the intensity of their earnest attention, through their intelligence which has no words.”


photos by Liz Lauren

The Steadfast Tin Soldier
Lookingglass Theatre Company
Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan
ends on January 26, 2020
for tickets, call 312.337.0665 or visit Lookingglass

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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