Review: The Buttcracker: A Nutcracker Burlesque—Here to Make Christmas Cheer Queer

The Buttcracker (playing at the Greenhouse Theater Center through December 31) is a Nutcracker Burlesque, a Yule pantomime with elements of comedy, magic and circus that blends all the qualities you’d want in evening holiday entertainment: compelling narrative, gorgeous flapper-era cinematic choreography and some vaudeville humor mixed with burlesque moves. In addition to all the visual and auditory fun, you can order drinks titled “Make the Yuletide Gay” (boldly serving up the key ingredients of the Negroni, Spagliato… with Prosecco), and, naturally, the “Buttcracker” itself (a vodka and gin concoction). In fact, the whole Buttcracker evening is more than a show—it’s an event that proves that the producers know how to build community with a big party vibe, starting with a cocktail hour that includes craft vendors from local artists (Thursday nights), or special pre-show performances (Friday and Saturday nights), and brunch fare (at Sunday matinees).

Now in its sixth season, The Buttcracker (directed by Miguel Long and choreographed by Dylan Kerr) has mastered the burlesque fairytale with an ensemble cast that sparkles as hard as the solo acts that will rotate through the show this season. Loosely following and heavily queering the Nutcracker plot, Clara and her mildly dom Drosselmeyer enter the dream world via a combination of consuming molly and taking a well-timed nap—an improbable plot twist sequence for sure, but Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker Suite needed a modern makeover, so just roll with it if you want to see an adorable romance blossom in a festive land full of joyful disrobing. Peel (as in clothing) and reveals (use your imagination) pile up as the plot unfolds, exposing the love between Clara and the Buttcracker herself. 

Meanwhile, a gorgeous and diverse ensemble cast (played by Hannah Silverman, Mandyn Mueller, Eilish Morse-O’Rourke, Yasmyne Williams and Savannah Sinclair) tap dances and twirls us through each act with glitz and glamor, rocking elegant costumes by Brighid Martensen.

Ensemble members of Buttcracker: Mandyn Mueller, Eilish Morse-O’Rourke,
Yasmyne Williams and Hannah Silverman). Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis. 

Stand-out performances on opening night included Baby Bagos Hood playing the rat king with just the right blend of fierce villain energy and drag bravado, Autumn Christensen (serving bestie energy as the Sugar Bum Fairy), and Elena Avila (Clara) and Olivia Lindsay (Buttcracker) whose meet-cute was as perfect as their chemistry on stage. Among the soloists opening week the burlesque energy was heightened and powerful, especially coming from Lily Rascal (playing a well-seasoned dirty Vodka Martini) Mocha (playing the potent brew of Coffee), and Empress Darling Shear (playing a spicy Mother Ginger). center

Shows run Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. There are no performances December 24 and 25. But there is a special New Year’s Eve closing night performance Saturday, December 31, at 9pm. Attending the show at any time during December would be an excellent date night decision, but if you really want to bring it up a notch, New Year’s Eve includes a party following the show with cheese and charcuterie snacks, two drink tickets for after the show, and a midnight “pole dancer booty drop” countdown with balloons and prizes, and special DJ guest performances. This show is for grownups (18 plus) and ticket prices range from $20 (industry rate) to $40 at the door, and $75 VIP. 

Tickets are now on sale at Greenhouse Theater and TheButtcrackerBurlesque.com and, based on availability, at the door one hour before the performance.

For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.

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Kim Campbell
Kim Campbell

Kim Campbell (they/them) is a freelance editor, podcaster and creative writer who has spent a career focusing on the arts, particularly literature, theater and circus. Former editor of CircusTalk News, they have written about theater and circus for Third Coast Review since its very beginning. Kim is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association and the International Network of Circus Arts Magazines. In 2019, they were on the jury of FIRCO in Madrid (Circus Festival Iberoamericano) and in 2021 they were on the voting committee for the International Circus Awards. See their tweets at @kimzyn or follow them on Instagram.

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