Review: Cirque du Soleil Performs a Holiday Thrill Ride in ‘Twas the Night Before
As we were making our way to the Chicago Theatre on Thursday, my friend asked me how I thought Cirque du Soleil was going to pull off their feats of wonder and magic. The troupe usually performs in stadiums or giant tents and the Chicago Theatre is a traditional concert hall/movie palace. It did not take long for the ensemble of ‘Twas the Night Before to cast a winter’s spell on the audience.
‘Twas the Night Before is based on the poem A Visit from St Nicholas by Clement Clarke Moore, which has been read and put to music for chorales during the holiday season. The circus spectacular is directed by Cirque du Soleil senior artistic director James Hadley. It is a dizzying 90-minute thrill ride that fulfills the holiday fantasies of dancing snow sprites and spinning stunts. They pull off every circus feat that can be performed in a giant stadium
This is the story of a teenage girl named Isabella (Alexane Leclerc) who lives with headphones on and is glued to video chats and selfie-snapping. Her father (Theodore Adisson Spencer) wants to have their traditional reading of A Visit from St. Nicholas and presents her with a new bicycle. Isabella is a moody teenager who wants to listen to her music and snubs her father’s request. Isabella is magically swept into another dimension to learn the magic of love, and tradition, and rediscover the child in herself.
A group of snow sprites escorts Isabella through the fantasy dimension. They perform dances and get the audience revved up. This would be the traditional role of clowns, but thankfully, the performers are free of the freakish white makeup and exaggerated grimacing features. Roberto Carabal leads the cast as Jolly Santa and as a juggling clown whose interaction with the audience provides humor. Carabal first appears as Santa in a shaggy soot-covered coat. His beard is black and he does not wear the red suit with white trim. He reappears at the end in a glittering red fringed coat with the traditional white beard.
The acrobatics and music adaptations are at the heart of ‘Twas the Night Before. The performers are from Spain, Taiwan, Brazil, Portugal, and Canada with three American performers in the troupe. Cirque du Soleil is known for its international cast and influences. Corteo was a French-inspired show with Italian, French, and Romany traditions of performance. Circus arts evolved from ethnic and folk traditions. Dances, illusions, mythology, and colorful attire abound in carnival and circus performances. This show has those same elements.
The audience at the Chicago Theatre was thrilled with the daring performances. Your opinion of hotel luggage carts may never be the same after watching Leah Simone Wolf spinning like a carnival ride 30 feet in the air. Priscila Teixeira Santos was suspended by her hair (gasp!) which freaked me out. I looked for wires as she spun like an ice skater and there were none. The roller-skating duo of Holler Zavatta and Carmen Ribas Segura drew a gasp from the audience as they defied gravity held together by a mouthpiece. I held my breath thinking that Ribas-Segura was going to clip her head in the low spins.
The tumblers from Spain and Colombia were the best part of the show in my opinion. They were costumed in striped unicorn onesies that recalled the colors in that giant tub of Christmas candy my parents used to buy. (The red, purple, and orange would always get eaten first. The green and blue candy would last until June.) Their enthusiasm and energy rippled through the audience. They also inhabited Santa’s reindeer with adorable gold antlers posed like a Christmas card with hooves in the air.
The costumes for ‘Twas the Night Before were designed by James Lavoie with makeup by Maryse Gosselin. The music was a Cirque du Soleil remix of traditional Christmas music from Jean-Phi Goncalves. The stunning acrobatics were created by Edesia Moreno Barata with choreography by Vinh Nguyen. All of the elements of a Cirque performance are thrilling and magical. It redefined the circus for a girl who grew up afraid of clowns with a deep dislike of animals being used for entertainment. I highly recommend Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Twas the Night Before.
‘Twas the Night Before runs through December 28 at the Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St. Tickets start at $38 and are available online at http://www.chicagotheatre.com/cirque
For more information on this and other plays, see theatreinchicago.com.
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