Audiences expecting Tchaikovsky’s holiday perennial “The Nutcracker” would most likely be pleasantly surprised by the House Theatre’s version of the classic story. The names have been kept the same, though identities have changed (if not to protect the innocent) and the story sharpened. This is not a Christmas spectacular, it is a Christmas story, at once smaller and richer than its more famous counterpart. Of course, this show is not exactly new either. First performed in 2007, This “Nutcracker” is becoming something of a hip holiday tradition. Taking the classic story of Clara (Paige Collins) and her magical toy that comes to life, this version, penned by Phillip Klapperich and Jake Minton with music by Kevin O’Donnell, raises the stakes considerably. This Nutcracker (Kevin Strangler) is no longer just some gallant hero, but was carved by Clara’s uncle Drosselmeyer (Loren Lazerine) in the image of Clara’s deceased, war hero brother, Fritz. On the one level, Christmas has been cancelled in Clara’s household (due to the her parents incredibly WASPy grief over Fitz’s death) and it is now up to her and Fitz to save it. On the second level, the entire family must come to grips with Fitz’s death. In the end, there are a number of well-earned tears to accompany the show’s belly laughs by the barrelful. The cast is uniformly excellent, with a number of actors getting to pull double duty, especially Brenda Barrie and Benjamin Sprunger who portray Clara’s grieving parents in addition to a pair of deliciously evil (and British) rats. Their ability to leap back and forth between broad, slapstick comedy and emotionally restrained realism were impressive indeed. And for those with young children in attendance, the actors come out before the show and during intermission to chat, have photos taken, etc. And if one doesn’t have children, never fear, because this show is one of those rare few that can truly be enjoyed by all (and I do mean all) ages.