Three performers dressed as burlesque versions of toy soldiers stand left, facing off against three performers dressed as burlesque mice. A person in the background between them holds up a placard reading ROUND 1.
The Buttcracker returns to the Greenhouse Theater Center. Credit: Matthew Gregory Hollis

Fast becoming a staple of Chicago’s alternative holiday entertainment scene, The Buttcracker: A Nutcracker Burlesque is back for a seventh year of tinseled twerking and tasseled twirling. Dreamed up around a campfire by artistic producer and playwright Jaq Seifert, the queer-friendly, sex-positive show celebrates bodies of various sizes, shades, ages, and genders in an exuberant reimagining of Tchaikovsky’s 1892 ballet. 

The Buttcracker
Through 12/30: Thu-Fri 8 PM, Sat 3 and 8 PM, Sun 3 PM; no show Sun 12/24; Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln, 773-404-7336 and, general admission $30-$45 advance, $35-$50 at the door, VIP $75 advance, $100 at the door (includes cafe table seating, VIP bar, swag bag), standing room $20 (based on availability)

In Seifert’s version, Clara (Amelia Roque) is all grown up and working at Nice LLC, where she ends up on the naughty list after hiring an adult dancer, Drosselmeyer (Harlem Nyte), to perform at the company’s holiday party. After receiving a pink slip, Clara cheers up when Drosselmeyer takes her on a magical, substance-enhanced trip to the Land of Snow and Sweets, where she meets her very own Buttcracker (KazMo Universe) and is treated to delectable performances by Vodka, Coffee, Tea, Chocolate, Mother Ginger, and more. Directed by Sarah Scanlon and choreographed by Willy LaQueue, the 2023 production again features a rotating lineup of soloists in the drink-themed and dessert-themed roles, so each audience sees a different combination of nightlife entertainers from the genres of classic burlesque, belly dancing, circus, and more. 

In a first for the annual show, composer Michelle Isaac has written original music this year. Isaac’s electronic transformations of the original ballet tunes will be a hit with fans of Mannheim Steamroller and the Trans-Siberian Orchestra, and her eclectic soundscape also features the accordion, banjo, and even a honky-tonk piano that opens a swing version of the Dance of the Reed Flutes. The lush, romantic theme from Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet makes a few well-timed appearances, too. 

I’m eager to see what this creative team, including costume designer Brighid Martensen, scenic designer Gabrielle Strong, and props designer Rowan Doe, could do with a bigger budget and larger stage. The visual elements have the homegrown feel of Doctor Who circa 2005: quirky and imaginative, with plenty of potential to become spectacular, given the proper resources. During a preshow speech, Seifert—founder of The Buttcracker presenter (sub)version productions, LLC—announced that they are raising funds to build their own space for “subversive and immersive” performances. I, for one, will be following with interest.
In the meantime, this iteration of The Buttcracker is well worth seeing, whether you’re a connoisseur of the genre or a burlesque virgin, as was one adventurous elder in the front row on opening night. After all, it’s never too late to spice things up—a sentiment Clara, Drosselmeyer, and the Buttcracker would surely share.