You have probably never seen anything quite like The MeshugaNutcracker!, a crazy Chanukah celebration set almost entirely to the music of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker. It was conceived by Guggenheim Entertainment as a Jewish alternative to the vast sea
of Christmas-themed productions (for example, Santastic!, which is playing alongside The MeshugaNutcracker! at the Retro Dome with much of the same cast and crew) and is certain to be popular among Jewish families for this reason.
However, you don’t have to be Jewish, or even familiar with Jewish culture, to enjoy it. It’s educational as well as entertaining, so for anyone who has ever wondered what this holiday is all about, the show answers a lot of questions. Shannon Guggenheim (who also wrote the lyrics), Tony DiCorti, Hilary Little, Ashley Rae Little, Richard Sanchez, Gabrielle McColgan, Isai Centeno and Justin Basl play the townspeople of Chelm, whom Jewish tradition regards as amusingly foolish.
This cast of characters certainly looks and acts the part. In their colorful, gaudy clothing, they sing and dance all over an equally colorful set. After remaking their dreidels to read “all” on each side (so that everyone who plays dreidel will win), the Chelmniks spin around in giant dreidel costumes. They also use an upside-down Christmas tree as a menorah, singing “This is a menorah, can’t you see?/ What but a menorah could it be?” to the tune of Tchaikovsky’s “The March.” Later, “Chinese Dance” becomes a song about making potato latkes.
There are a few traditional Jewish songs included in the mix, but the rest is all Tchaikovsky, albeit played in a klezmerish style. This might seem like a strange combination, but it works surprisingly well (it got the whole audience clapping along), and there is some precedence for it. Back in the ’90s, Shirim Klezmer Orchestra released their Klezmer Nutcracker album, which more recently became the basis for an Off-Broadway production. And, as it turns out, Tchaikovsky himself may have been at least a little bit Jewish. Along with the music, there are stories told of Chanukah’s origins, of Judah Maccabee’s heroics and the Miracle of the Oil. Even the more serious tales convey an uplifting message of hope, and The MeshugaNutcracker! is an altogether lighthearted celebration of the holiday spirit and the perseverance of the Jewish people in the face of adversity that audiences of all ages will enjoy.
The Meshuga Nutcracker!
Saturday, Dec. 18, 7:30pm
Sunday, Dec. 19, 1:30pm
Retro Dome, San Jose
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