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No-Ballet 'Nutcracker' Stars Chatham Teen Who Dreams Of Broadway

 Ariana Burks, 17, is making her debut in The House Theatre of Chicago’s “The Nutcracker.”
Ariana Burks, 17, is making her debut in The House Theatre of Chicago’s “The Nutcracker.”
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The House Theatre of Chicago

CHATHAM — Ariana Burks has been working toward her dream of being on Broadway since she was a child — and she’s getting closer by making her debut in The House Theatre of Chicago’s “The Nutcracker.”

Burks, a 17-year-old Chatham resident and senior at the Chicago High School for The Arts, plays Clara, the lead character in the play.

The musical production runs through Dec. 30. The production premiered at the Steppenwolf Theatre in 2007 under the Visiting Company Initiative. This version strays from the original in that it’s ballet-free. The show is playing upstairs at The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division.

The audience will go on a journey with “Clara” as she tries to still celebrate Christmas after her brother Fritz’s death. Fritz, played by Desmond Gray, returns as a magical nutcracker.

Burks said she loves her role because Clara isn’t a one-dimensional character.

Ariana Burks is making her debut in The House Theatre of Chicago’s “The Nutcracker.” [The House Theatre of Chicago]

“It’s fun to play her,” she said. “It’s a great story and I love Clara because she’s so complex.”

Preparing for the role included lots of research, watching a video from the previous cast and hours of practice.

Matthew Muniz, The Nutcracker's music director, called Burks "genuinely gifted."

"Her memory is amazing," he said. "She takes in new ideas quickly, and doesn't simply memorize them, she absorbs them and breathes life into them. Her voice is angelic, and to top it off, so is her disposition. She's a total pleasure to work with."

The portfolio for this teen actress includes several film and theater credits. The most recent is "The Compass" at Steppenwolf. Other theater credits include Little Inez in "Hairspray" at Paramount, "Alice in Wonderland: Alice's Rock and Roll Adventure" with Chicago Children’s Theatre, and Emma in "The Black & White Ball" at FWD Theatre.

Burks said she fell in love with musical theater and acting at a very young age. She grew up imitating Disney Channel characters. She graduated from Dixon Elementary School, 8306 S. St. Lawrence Ave, where she participated in the band and choir. At her current high school, ChiArts, 2714 W. Augusta Blvd., she gets to major in musical theater.

“My dream is to be on Broadway,” she said.

Singing and acting were "always something that gave me a lot of joy,” Burks said.

Her plan after high school is college. She said she wants to remain in-state for school and continue pursuing the arts.

She’s proud of her accomplishments to date she said because she’s showing that there’s quality talent from the South Side.

“A lot of people have a preconceived notion about the South Side, but I think we need to break that misconception,” Burks said.

She said she will continue working hard and encourages other aspiring actors to do the same.

“Don’t be afraid to go after things that scare you,” she said. “Never give up because you will hear a hundred no’s before you hear one yes.”

Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, 3 p.m. Saturdays and 3 and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $25-$45. Student and industry same-day discounted tickets are available for $15 for all dates, based on availability. Tickets may be bought by calling 773-769-3832 or by visiting www.thehousetheatre.com.

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