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BWW Review: THE MESHUGANUTCRACKER! Turns the Gindi Auditorium Upside Down

The MeshugaNutcracker!/conceived by Scott, Shannon and Stephen Guggenheim/book by Scott Evan Guggenheim & Shannon Guggenheim/music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky/music adapted and lyrics by Shannon Guggenheim/musical director: Stephen Guggenheim/choreographer: Shannon Guggenheim/directed by Scott Evan Guggenheim/Gindi Auditorium, American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, LA/through January 1, 2017

Looking for a different kind of entertainment this holiday season? Well, The MeshugaNutcracker! may very well be the answer. In Yiddish, Meshuga means crazy. The show's a conglomeration of music from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker ballet and an original book that incorporates eight stories of Jewish culture that are simultaneously fun and enriching.

BWW Review: THE MESHUGANUTCRACKER! Turns the Gindi Auditorium Upside Down

In the picture above, you see eight citizens, consideRed Fools by everyone outside of their little town of Chelm in Poland. The tall bearded man center is the mayor (Stephen Guggenheim), to his left wife Esther (Susan Gundunas) and to her left the Rabbi (Benjamin Pither). All eight are wearing overly colorful and silly costumes and something outrageous on their head. The First Lady Esther wears a huge apple, the lady far left, an enlarged flower pot. No special significance! As you may guess, when these folks first appear onstage and then filter into the audience, you are in for a deliciously fun time. They want to entertain you, make you laugh...and tell you the history of their town and how their religion has shaped their lives.

BWW Review: THE MESHUGANUTCRACKER! Turns the Gindi Auditorium Upside Down

They proceed to tell eight stories associated with Chanukah, simple, direct and very moving. One, for example, tells of a family awaiting the return of their father. He is late and they worry. When he finally gets home, for them, it is time for celebration, as they cannot celebrate Chanukah without him. Another anecdote tells of a small boy (Benjamin Pither) who sells his bicycle so he may give his parents a special menorah. When he gives it to them, they are overwhelmed with joy. When they give him his gift, a bell for his bicycle, what can he do but be happy for them? He must compromise...well, maybe! Sacrifice, making others happy is the name of the game. My favorite story of all is about the Holocaust when a little girl (Shannon Guggenheim), is afraid of the dark, her papa (Jackson Davis) teaches her to light candles and to share the light with those around her, She does not realize she and her family are on their way to the death camp, but with the light, there is hope. Heartbreaking scenario!

Of course, in Act II, there is an ode to the dreidel and even a dance, and a beautifully told story of how one man led his people against the oppressors and freed them.

What is most endearing about this entire show is that number one, it doesn't matter if you are Jewish, you will still enjoy it. The eight actors sing sand dance and make mirth out of just about everything, proving once and for all, that being Jewish is something to be proud of and to exult in it. We can all learn from their experiences and find our own way to rejoice in living.

BWW Review: THE MESHUGANUTCRACKER! Turns the Gindi Auditorium Upside Down

The cast are sensational singers, dancers and comic actors, all triple threats. Most of them are trained operatically, and the singing is absolutely glorious. Apart from those mentioned above, Krista Wigle, Jeremy Kreamer and Lynda Divito complete the ensemble.

The music of the Nutcracker is triumphant and fun, fun, fun with Guggenheim's new lyrics. Julie Engelbrecht has designed a simplistic but functional set and her costumes are wild and gaudy. Scott Evan Guggenheim has directed with a great pace, fast but not too fast, never letting anything lag.

Treat yourselves to something wonderful and enmesh yourselves in the Jewish culture. Don't miss The MeshugaNutcracker! at the Gindi Auditorium through January 1 only! If you usually celebrate Christmas, go learn about Chanukah. Isn't that what the spirit of the season is all about, to share the joy and love.

Don't forget to stop by the concession stand in the lobby and buy the delicious latkes and sufganiots (jelly doughnuts) before the show, during intermission, or after the show. Your money helps to support local charities.

BWW Review: THE MESHUGANUTCRACKER! Turns the Gindi Auditorium Upside Down

(photo credit: Betsy Kershner)

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