The Steadfast Tin Soldier Credit: Liz Lauren

Many of the memorable experiences created by Lookingglass over the years have been triumphs of imaginative and physical scale—more often than not, the augmented kind—like Amanda Dehnert’s Eastland or Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses. This enchanting world-premiere Christmas pantomime is a decidedly different sort, one that resembles a music box: fastidious and deceptively compact and, despite its weight and elegance, ultimately a machine masterfully crafted for play and wonder.

Four powdered wig-clad chamber musicians provide string, piano, and woodwind accompaniment to Hans Christian Andersen’s fable about a one-legged tin soldier (Alex Stein) hopelessly in love with a toy ballerina (Kasey Foster). Through dances choreographed by Tracy Walsh and a wide variety of truly spectacular puppets designed by Chicago Puppet Studios, Zimmerman’s ensemble of five creatively play out the toys’ misadventures at the dinner table, out the window, and in the weeds of a dangerous, indifferent world. The characters grow and shrink with their emotional circumstances. We see a preverbal child, for instance, represented by massive, cloud-like hands and a head while he’s engaged in play, then diminish to an insignificant, melancholy wooden doll after being teased by a bratty sibling.

Famously, Andersen’s stories don’t shy away from the cruelty in humanity, and that gives the sacrifice and love and beauty they mine out of it and showcase more meaning. Zimmerman’s adaptation is full of so many brain-tickling visual and emotional contradictions and bits of pure magic than I’m not ashamed to say that I was a blubbering mess by the end of it, my heart full of hope and gratitude. What an absolute gift this Tin Soldier is.  v