It’s A Wonderful Santaland Miracle Nut Cracking Christmas Story…. Jews Welcome Review - Chicago's Most Cheerful Holiday Show

On its opening night, I attended a show with an enticingly long title at Stage 773. It’s A Wonderful Santaland Miracle Nut Cracking Christmas Story. Jews Welcome has returned to Stage 773 for the second year, promising “one festivous, exciting, cheery merry show." This was my first time at Stage 773 and, I must say, it’s stunning. Located in Lakeview, the place is huge with four theaters and many different shows running at once. I was immediately enticed by the bar – not only because it had just about everything, but also because it was a great area to hang out before the show. Make sure you have a few minutes to grab a drink before your show when you come here.


Walking into the theater, the costume and decor was overly tacky and wonderful in the cheesiest way. This, of course, was exciting because it was freezing outside and this sort of cheer is necessary to survive Chicago winter without plunging into a deeply sad place. We were greeted by the most animated troupe of young people – all dressed like Christmas elves with Santa hats - handing out cookies that they were making right in front of our eyes. This had the consequence of filling the theater with the smell of freshly baked sugar cookies -an absolute delight. As soon as we took our seats, someone shoved a bowl of cinnamon, peppermint and other festive ingredients under our noises asking, “Does this smell like Christmas to you?”


This greeting spectacle seemed to be part of the show. At the very least it was way, way over the top in holiday cheer, and the cookie-pushing cast members seemed exceedingly enthusiastic for their opening night. It quickly went from charming and fun to annoying. So, when the first act started and the “flurry of excitement” commenced, it was hard to watch. The young cast has put together a cabaret of dance, drama, songs and comedy, but not all of these scenes were… delightful. Let me be more descript here: Do you remember the theater kids from your high school or college? Most likely this group of people did odd exercises to “loosen up” like zip, zap, zoom or practiced different character voices in public. Well, the beginning of It’s A Wonderful Santaland Miracle Nut Cracking Christmas Story simply looks like those kids you remember fighting for center stage of their own production. In a group of 18, they seem to have forgotten an audience is watching with expectations.


Fortunately, there were a few saving graces to this production and my initial reactions were proven very wrong by the finale. For one, if you’re into holiday spirit, this is the show for you. The production is not a mockery of Christmas or any other holiday, it is a full on celebration in the most untraditional sense. The passion from the cast can be somewhat off-putting, especially at the beginning of the show, but many of them are talented singers, dancers, comedians and, dare I say, rappers.


Throughout the show, we were introduced to many styles and acts, all fresh takes on holiday traditions. Comedy and singing acts ranged from travel delays, going back home to one’s parents and even the different holidays personified as puppets. This puppet scene was toward the beginning of the show, and it was a mild relief, mostly because the cast members were hidden for a few moments and therefore unable to kill the audience with their wired grins.


There were also a few very serious dance numbers stuck in between some of the funnier skits. It was obvious there was a great ballerina in the cast, but stuck on this stage, which was small and tacky (in a good way!), the dancing took on a cold and sobering mood that just didn’t seem to fit. It just looked amateurish, despite the talent of the dancers themselves.


I wasn’t sure where this show was going at first, but then appeared Marco Braun, the standout male figure. Not only does he have a nice voice, but a natural comedic talent that is in sharp contrast to the forced dialogue in many scenes. Another reason to see this show is Mollie Rehner, one of two self-proclaimed Jews in the production. One of the best numbers was "The Wrapping Rap", where the cast rapped about – you guessed it – wrapping gifts. Not everyone has a future in hiphop music, but Rehner takes the fruitcake. She’s funny and genuine and channels Nicki Minaj in the way that only a jewish girl singing about Christmas can.


The absolute best part of the show was when the entire cast donned gilded gospel attire and sang and prayed for those with food allergies this Thanksgiving and holiday season. This was hysterical. “God bless the vegans, they are not forsaken” might just be the line to remember from the entire production. This scene was so relevant and poked fun at the current eating trends of today. Indeed, many of the acts took on traditional stories such as Charlie Brown, Scrooge and Santa's reindeer and turned them into something original and refreshing and funny. As I said before, my first backlash to the spirit of this pageant transformed, and it was a genuinely enjoyable experience.


The Belmont Theater District is one of the most booming areas to see dazzling productions in Chicago that range from comedy to some serious (and lengthy) dramas. What I saw on its opening night was a “story” that is hard to put into that spectrum. Perhaps the word “lagniappe” best describes It’s A Wonderful Santaland Miracle Nut Cracking Christmas Story… Jews Welcome. It’s certainly something you can’t get at home by popping in a traditional holiday musical or story on the television or in the CD player.


As Christmas approaches, spending an evening here is well worth your time. Check out future show times at Stage 773’s website or by calling (773) 327-5252.



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