(sub)version productions' "The Buttcracker" Returns with New Direction, Music, and Choreography


In her review of The Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker,” Chicago Tribune critic (and former SeeChicagoDance Editor) Lauren Warnecke suggests that the classic show still tugs at your heartstrings “whether it’s your first time or 51st.”

Of course, The Joffrey always delivers, but I do believe that “Nutcracker” fatigue is real. I don’t mean to dissuade you from partaking in any one of the fantastic productions of the time-honored property appearing this season throughout Chicagoland; on the contrary, might I suggest a palate cleanser, “The Buttcracker,” a sexy spin on an old favorite.

“The Buttcracker: A Nutcracker Burlesque” presented by (sub)version productions and running through Dec. 30 transforms the main upstairs proscenium at Greenhouse Theater Center into a classic cabaret, with tightly packed tables framed by two bars—thanks, show sponsor Jeppson, for the free shot of Malort! Table-by-table pre-shows by tricksters and magicians help whet the whistle for the main event.

If you’ve been to the “Buttcracker” before, fear not, for the show has been redone with new music composed by Michelle Isaac, new choreography by Willy LaQueue and new direction by Sarah Scanlon. Producer Jaq Seifert, who also adapted the narrative from E. T. A. Hoffmann’s “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” assures us in a pre-show announcement that “It’s pretty much a whole new show!”

The show opens with an office party in full swing. Workers dressed in oversized beige and brown suits mingle in front of a stage-spanning canvas painted like a sea of cubicles. Office admin Clara (Amelia Roque) has a surprise for her co-workers, a performance by The Amazing Drosselmeyer, a voluptuous beauty covered in red sequins who wows the audience with multiple costume changes, wig swapping, perky chaîné turns and light tap dancing—an amalgamation of classic burlesque repertoire.

Unfortunately, the office staff is mortified! The Boss (Kitty LaRoux) is least impressed of all and fires Clara on the spot. Dejected, Clara and Drosselmeyer launch into an amateur magic show, a metaphor for a drug-induced trip that transports them to The Land of Snow and Sweets.

I always loved how the original “The Nutcracker,” like Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” used distorted mirror versions of Clara’s real-life familiars, turning them into fanciful alter egos. In “The Buttcracker,” this tradition is intact. The Boss/LaRoux appears as the Rat King leading a charge of office workers-turned-mousey minions against formidable gingerbread soldiers. Drosselmeyer uses their magic powers to turn a found Nutcracker toy into a powerful and sexy Buttcracker (who suspiciously resembles a co-worker/janitor with whom Clara had an innocent crush).

No “Nutcracker” would be complete without a pas de deux. The Buttcracker (Kazmo Universe), in a sparkly red and black military uniform, shows Clara the true meaning of the season, teaching her to strip, tease and be sexy!


A Nutcracker Burlesque" through Dec. 30 at Greenhouse Theater Center; Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis

Act 2 begins in the court of the Sugar Bum Fairy (Chaotika XOXO), a fairy princess wielding a ginourmous candy necklace. The revelry revisits the iconic celebration of different dance and music styles. Michelle Isaac’s compositions maintain the flavor of Tchaikovsky’s original score, and the traditional stereotypical ethnic numbers are replaced by solo spots featuring some of Chicago’s popular burlesque performers.

In “Vodka,” Lady Ginger starts things off with an intoxicating set—literally!—removing articles of clothing while whipping out flasks, her movements growing looser and looser the more she imbibes.

MochaMocha2.0 in the appropriately named “Coffee” slinks and swivels adorned with metal neck rings reminiscent of an African goddess to a sultry Arabian soundtrack.

Veteran performer Slightly Spitfire (in their final performance before leaving Chicago) shows off their gymnastic abilities in “Tea.” They tumble into somersaults, launch into splits, balance on their shoulders and catapult into a daring finish.

Miss Nyxon in “Chocolate” brought down the house with a Flamenco-inspired number that began with syncopated rhythms played on castanets which ended in a fiery finish with tassels twirling while en flambé!

Vivi Valens embodies the comedic spirit of burlesque in “Mother Ginger,” the sexiness of her shapely body juxtaposed against a hilariously enlarged gingerbread head. It’s hard to decide whether to laugh or hoot, so why not both!

The show’s resident ensemble of dancers—Michael Eos, Gal Strapp, Squeaky Bubbles, L’Raven— allows the show’s narrative moments to breathe with routines that harken back to the days of vaudeville. Early 20th century moves mixed with contemporary booty shaking that lead up to a Busby Berkeley-esque spectacle of rotating white feather fans that’s so nice they do it twice.

Whether you’ve seen “The Nutcracker” one or fifty-one times, you’ve not seen one like this. “The Buttcracker” is like hopping into a time machine and traveling back to fin de siècle burlesque, with all the variety, humor, schlock and skin one would expect but with a diverse cast that brings a variety of flavors to the production. Don’t get your tassels in a twist and check out this delightful fresh take on an old classic.


“The Buttcracker: A Nutcracker Burlesque” presented by (sub)version productions runs through Dec. 30 at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $20-$100 and are available at GreenhouseTheater.org or by clicking the event here.