Theater Review: ‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE (Cirque du Soleil in Chicago and New York)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 29, 2019

in Theater-Chicago,Theater-New York,Tours


There’s a beloved poem behind these multiple circus acts in one act: Clement Moore was never that fond of his famous 1837 poem A Visit from Saint Nicholas (better known as ’Twas the Night Before Christmas). Written in a jog-trotting anapestic tetrameter, the now-treasured verse was for its author a mere trifle.

Not so for nine generations since. As much as Thomas Nash’s defining drawings of Kris Kringle/Santa Claus/Father Christmas/Père Noël, this little poem established the now familiar legends of the levitating delivery sleigh, turbo-charged reindeer, and late-night gift-giving.

It’s also the inspiration for ‘Twas the Night Before…, a co-production of Cirque du Soleil and Madison Square Garden Company, now playing the Chicago Theatre through December 8 before it moves to New York, running through December 29, 2019.

Following a warm-up pre-show that erupts throughout the theater, we get the goods: The concept, a likable excuse for the interactive spectacle, is that an iPod-wearing teenager named Isabella (Michele Clark, a tad beyond girlhood) wrongly feels that she’s outgrown Yule. Specifically, she rejects Moore’s poem that her father (Alexis Vigneault) loves to read to her.

When a sudden snowstorm separates father and daughter, Isabella must rediscover for herself (a la Ebenezer Scrooge) the wonders that the deconstructed poem relates — and finally meets the “Man with the Bag” himself.

So, as Isabella and dad struggle to reunite in a happy ending that confirms her faith in Christmas, the poem comes to life through 15 rapid-fire acts and attractions, each literally punctuated by what finally feels like 1,000 points of light. Though the ensuing onslaught of make-believe takes only 77 minutes, the extravaganza feels as complete as sheer, diverse entertainment delivers.

Coming from all parts of the globe and performed on a two-level stage where colors spill across scintillating strands of icicle curtains, these skillful acrobatics include Nicole Faubert and Guillaume Paquin effortlessly soaring on duo straps to suggest “the leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky.”

Likewise, each successive sensation mirrors a verse from the work that illustrates every aspect of Santa’s charity odyssey. We’re regaled with Francis Gadbois’ dazzling block juggling, six dancers attired in candy-cane pajamas sharing the spark of light that lures Isabella on, six more high-energy athletes cavorting on a very malleable acro-table, a “hotel cart” jampacked with toys, a snowscape of a winter wonderland, and Rosie Axon and Adam Jukes caught up in a roller blade race that culminates in a proposal.

But, wait, there’s more! Tuedon Ariri swings splendidly from an aerial tissue hammock. There’s a snowball fight, a Chinese act in which four young guys throw around glowing diabolos, assisted by guest audience members. Vigneault proves he’s more than just Isabella’s father as he twirls from a giant aerial lamp, while Isabella has fun with multiple illuminated hula hoops. They’re followed by the concluding amazement, six hoop divers depicting the unstoppable vitality of the reindeer pulling Santa’s troika.

(So long that it feels like filler, the one misfire here is Gadbois’ clumsily goofy clown act in which a supposedly random audience member is creepily confined to a very busy bed.)

Happily, ‘Twas reaches its joyous finale as Santa unpacks his sack, and gorgeous lights stream across the auditorium. Cirque du Soleil’s first Christmas-themed show is well described as a “flurry of love.” The excitement seldom abates, the spirit is willing, and the flesh is strong.

photos by Errisson Lawrence

‘Twas the Night Before
Cirque du Soleil
Chicago Theatre through Sunday December 8, 2019
then plays the Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden through December 29, 2019
for tickets, visit Cirque du Soleil

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