Chelm, Chinese food and Chanukah &mdash Musical spoof packs

Where do denizens of Chelm go out for dinner on Christmas Eve? Same as Jews everywhere — Chinese!

Playwrights Scott and Shannon Guggenheim are hoping the equation Chelm plus Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” equals a Chanukah classic.

The theatrical couple’s National Jewish Theatre Festival company is presenting the world premiere of their play, “The MeshugaNutcracker,” in Palo Alto from Saturday, Dec. 20, to Sunday, Dec. 28. They believe it will be a solution for the December Dilemma this year and in those yet to come.

Instead of watching claymation Christmas specials, Jewish families can tote their tykes to the show, which features musical lines such as “This is why we go out for Chinese!/Everyone you know — to the movies! Ho-ho, to escape Christmas day!” and “Santa has the last laugh/This holiday lasts a month and a half.”

The story follows the plight of the good people of Chelm as they present their annual Chanukah play (and, yes, the similarity to the play-within-a-play scene in “Hamlet” is noted by the show’s cast, who refer to their production as “Chelmlet”).

The Chelm plays are based on the stories of “The Jar of Fools” author Eric Kimmel, and sets and costumes are derived from the accompanying Mordicai Gerstein illustrations.

“I think the easiest way to describe it is we’re cartoons from the story ‘The Jar of Fools’ come to life on stage with song and dance. It’s a lot of fun,” said actor David Greenbaum, who portrays Gronam Schmegegi, the mayor of Chelm.

And Mayor Schmegegi shares the stage with a few oversized props that wouldn’t look out of place at a more Semitic Spinal Tap show — dancing menorahs and giant spinning dreidels (no Stonehenge monuments, though).

The Guggenheims have long been involved in Bay Area Jewish theater. Often they will present dramatic productions in local day schools or temples, or direct “in-house talent” at synagogue productions.

This, however, is their first production featuring an entirely professional cast, 18 musical numbers and a home theater, Palo Alto’s Cubberley. There will be one non-professional actor in each show, however: A local rabbi, synagogue board president or Jewish professional will portray the Chelmniks’ AWOL theater director, amble on stage, light the candles and explain the true meaning of Chanukah.

Scott Guggenheim — the show’s real director — assures that the guest star will not be singing so much as being “sung to and danced around” by the trained professionals.

“The music was catchy by itself,” said Greenbaum of the “Nutcracker Suite.” “And now that they’ve added lyrics, it’s hard to get it out of my own head. Even the name is funny.”

More ‘Meshuggah-Nuns!’
Play gets extended run

Local performances of the musical comedy “Meshuggah-Nuns!” have been extended through Jan. 11.

Originally set to close on New Year’s Eve, the show opened at the Willows Theatre Company in Concord on Nov. 14. It was initially sold out within a week.

For tickets, call (925) 798-1300 or go to

“The MeshugaNutcracker” plays Saturday, Dec. 20 to Sunday, Dec. 28 at the Cubberley Theatre, 4000 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. Tickets: $15 for children, $20 for students and seniors, $25 general admission. Information: (877) 456-4849.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.