Theater Review – Meshuga Nutcracker – A Hanukkah parody




The Meshuga Nutcracker - photo from Guggenheim Entertainment

In Hebrew school I recall Yiddish folklore stories about the Wise Men of Chelm – a mythical town in the Pale Settlement between Russia and Poland – where everyone was wise or at least thought they were. Their foolish antics created humorous stories for the readers.  Using some of the characters from these tales Scott, Shannon, Scott Evan and Stephen Guggenheim created their original lyrics and play – The Meshuga Nutcracker.


The Meshuga Nutcracker -Jeremy Kreamer and Shannon Guggenheim - photo from Guggenheim Entertainment

The festival, which highlights freedom of religion, tells the story of the Maccabees as they fought and won an almost unheard of victory against the oppressive army is celebrated for eight days.


The Meshuga Nutcracker! is a full-length musical comedy that features the wonderfully silly sensibilities of the folklore of Chelm (the fictional town of fools) underscored by an invigorating, Klezmer-ized orchestration of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite." The original lyrics celebrate Chanukah and Judah Maccabee's triumphant saga and accounts of perseverance during the Holocaust as well as the celebration of the first Chanukah in the new state of Israel emerge with a genuine sense of wonder as the Chelmniks tell eight stories that pay tribute to the holiday. 


The Meshuga Nutcracker - full cast - photo from Guggenheim Entertainment

The equity cast included Jackson Davis, Lynda DiVitoShannon Guggenheim, Stephen GuggenheimSusan Gundunas, Jeremy Kreamer, Benjamin Pither,  Krista Wigle, with guest stars – celebrities, local dignitaries, etc. at each performance.   While the production team included Julie Engelbrecht (set and costume design,) Derek Duarte (lighting design,) Steven Cahill (sound,) and Thomas Tomasello (orchestrations.)  Stage managers are Rona Goswick and Morgan Zupanski.   Richard Sanchez worked as crafts master.   Publicity was done by Ken Werther.


Many of the dances were choreographed by Shannon Guggenheim while Scott Evan Guggenheim directed.   As Guggenheim Entertainment they worked with the California Academy For The Creative and Performing Arts and the National Jewish Theatre Festival.


The Meshuga Nutcracker - Stephen Guggenheim and Susan Gundunas- photo from Guggenheim Entertainment

This silly, yet warm and meaningful play is an excellent production, with great acting, colorful costumes,  great dances, and professional scenery.   The original music is fun and with the chorography it often you want to clap along creating a happy feeling.  Though the scenes about the Holocaust brought tears to some of the audience’s eyes.  Jews and non-Jews alike will enjoy this event (though it does help to have some understanding of the holiday beforehand.)


The concession stands sells sufganiot – jelly doughnuts – and potato latkes – traditional foods for the Hanukkah holiday. The fact that they are fried in oil is symbolic of the fact that the oil in the menorah lasted eight nights instead of the one.   Proceeds go to help the drama center at the Stephen S Wise school.  


The Meshuga Nutcracker - full cast - photo from Guggenheim Entertainment

Now playing at the Gindi Auditorium at the American Jewish University off of Mulholland Drive the performances continue until January 1, 2017.   Times are Saturdays (8pm), Sundays 2 pm, Wednesday 2 and 7 pm, Thursday at 7 pm, and Saturday at 8 pm, with the final shows at 2 and 8 pm for January 1, 2017.  Admission is $72 with discounts for students, seniors and children and tickets may be purchased at 408- 404 7711.  Valet parking is available on level 1. 


In the next few months, the play will also appear in New York.    

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