Review: The Steadfast Tin Soldier (Lookingglass Theatre)

| November 23, 2018

Anthony Irons stars in The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Lookingglass Theatre    


The Steadfast Tin Soldier
Conceived & Directed by Mary Zimmerman
    from story by Hans Christian Andersen
Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan (map)
thru Jan 13  |  tix: $45-$85  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Mary Zimmerman works her magic to create a new holiday classic


The cast of The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Lookingglass Theatre (photo by Liz Lauren)

Lookingglass Theatre Company presents
The Steadfast Tin Soldier

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

Mary Zimmerman, it’s good to have you back.

The Steadfast Tin Soldier marks the award-winning director’s return to the stage after a well-earned sabbatical. It’s a family-friendly holiday adaptation of the only story Hans Christian Andersen created by himself, complete with the unique visual storytelling that is Zimmerman’s trademark. Lookingglass Theatre’s latest is a triumph for both the company and Zimmerman: one hour of jewel tones, breathtaking puppets, original music and almost no dialogue. In Zimmerman’s capable hands, the story of one imperfect toy’s epic journey back to his small but loving owner transforms from a little-known tale to a new holiday classic.

Alex Stein and Kasey Foster star in The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Lookingglass TheatreAlex Stein, last seen in TimeLine’s A Shayna Maidel, takes the title role: one of many toy soldiers in the collection of a sweet, feisty toddler – only this soldier has only one leg. After the baby goes to bed, the soldier befriends a lovely ballerina doll (Kasey Foster) who tries but fails to protect him from a meddling jack-in-the-box (Anthony Irons). The now-misplaced soldier, ever-loyal to his owner, begins an epic quest back home, dodging street urchins, amorous fishmongers, and the sewers down below. Through it all, he remains committed to his mission: to rediscover the pure love of a child he once knew.

In a brief interview in the Tin Soldier program, Zimmerman discusses her unique process working with actors and designers (she always stays “one day ahead”), as well as her penchant for stories of unrequited love with “melancholy and transcendent” endings. The Steadfast Tin Soldier is pure Zimmerman: whimsical and childlike, but also thought-provoking and intelligent. Creating truly family-friendly theater – that is to say, appealing to everyone in a given family – is much more difficult than most people think. In that respect and many others, Tin Soldier is a true standout. Time both speeds up and slows down in the Zimmerman universe, as the soldier encounters kindness, depravity, triumphs and setbacks. The end isn’t completely happy, but it’s satisfying: though the soldier may not get the solution he wanted, his steadfast soul doesn’t go unrewarded.

Anthony Irons, Kasey Foster and Christopher Donahue star in The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Lookingglass TheatreJohn Gregorio, Kasey Foster, and Anthony Irons star in The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Lookingglass TheatreAnthony Irons, Christopher Donahue and John Gregorio star in The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Lookingglass

Zimmerman’s magic touch is evident through every detail: messages spelled out with building blocks, a vibrant Advent calendar full of surprises that kicks off the preshow, the powdered wigs of the live musicians. Circus choreography courtesy of Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi delights at every turn, but always plays a pivotal role in the story and character development. Todd Rosenthal’s set and Ana Kuzmanic’s costumes breathe life into Andersen’s narrative and Zimmerman’s interpretation, transforming the five actors into staunch but caring nursemaids, bullying older brothers and a plethora of children’s toys. At times the production feels less traditional play, more moving painting, and the effect is positively glorious.

Stein is beautifully cast, his sweet face and flawless physicality making him a perfect toy hero. Foster, last seen at Lookingglass as a verbal intellectual in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, brings the same graceful dedication to the sweet and protective ballerina. Christopher Donahue perfectly embodies the stiff-upper-lip domestic, and John Gregorio’s bad seed sailor-suited brother is both hilarious and terrifying as his mean-spirited focus zeroes in on the tiny one-legged soldier. Irons’ goblin jack-in-the-box is equally menacing, colorful and bouncy but able to alter the course of fate with one breath. Everything in The Steadfast Tin Soldier is memorable, thanks to Zimmerman’s collaborative but uncompromising vision. As the lights came up, more than a few sniffles emanated from the audience, leading me to the conclusion that The Steadfast Tin Soldier could be subtitled “the play that will make your mother cry.” My own included.

Rating: ★★★★

The Steadfast Tin Soldier continues through January 13th at Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan (map), with performances Tuesdays thru Sundays.  Tickets are $45-$85, and are available by phone (312-337-0665) or online through their website (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 1 hour without intermission)

Christopher Donahue, John Gregorio and Alex Stein star in The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Lookingglass Theatre

Photos by Liz Lauren 




Christopher Donahue (Nursemaid), Kasey Foster (Ballerina, dance captain), Anthony Irons (Goblin), John Gregorio (Rat), Alex Stein (Steadfast Tin Soldier)

Understudies: Audrey Anderson, Dan Plehal, Nelson Rodriguez


Leandro López Várady (piano), Greg Hirte (violin), Michal Palzewicz (cello), Constance Volk (woodwinds)

behind the scenes

Mary Zimmerman (director, conceiver), Todd Rosenthal (scenic design), Ana Kuzmanic (costume design), T.J. Gerckens (lighting design), Andre Pluess (co-sound design and co-composer), Amanda Dehnert (co-composer), Christopher M. LaPorte (co-sound design), Leandro López Várady (music director and associate arranger), Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi (circus choreographer), Tracy Walsh (dance choreographer), Tom Lee, Chicago Puppet Studio (puppet design), Isaac Schoepp (rigging design), Amanda Herrmann (properties design), Katrina Herrmann (stage manager), Sarah Burnham (production manager), Liz Lauren (photos)

Leandro Lopez Varady (piano), Michal Palzewicz (cello), Greg Hirte (violin) and Constance Volk (flute)Kasey Foster and Antony Irons star in The Steadfast Tin Soldier, Lookingglass Theatre


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Holiday Show, Lauren Emily Whalen, Lookingglass, New Work, Water Tower Water Works, World Premier

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