MeshugaNutcracker and all its craziness returns to Bay Area

Who needs sugar plum fairies when you can have dancing latkes?

For anyone dealing with an overdose of department-store Santas and December dilemmas, there’s always “The MeshugaNutcracker,” back for its second run. This original musical weaves a wacky but poignant Chanukah tale (and dancing latkes) with the music of Peter Tchaikovsky.

“The MeshugaNutcracker” (or “M’nut,” as co-creators Scott and Shannon Guggenheim call it) opens a three-week run Dec. 7 at the Showtime Theater at Paramount’s Great America in Santa Clara.

(Theatergoers need not worry about any noisy rumble from Vortex, Psycho Mouse or other nearby thrill rides. The theme park will be closed during the run.)

Last year, “The MeshugaNutcracker” enjoyed a successful debut at Palo Alto’s Cubberley Theater. Most of the original cast of eight is back, as are the book and lyrics by the Guggenheims.

“It’s closer to an opera than a play,” says Scott Guggenheim of the family-oriented show. “But it’s tongue-in-cheek. We do a takeoff on what Jews go through [at holiday time].”

If the show’s plot seems familiar, there’s good reason. The Chanukah tales featured in “The MeshugaNutcracker” were adapted from stories by children’s book author Eric A. Kimmel (“The Jar of Fools”) and Peninnah Schram & Steven M. Rosman (“Eight Stories for Eight Nights”.)

The characters are all residents of the mythical shtetl Chelm, telling Chanukah stories that range from the ancient to the postmodern. At one point, the cast sings about the travails of Chanukah shopping at Christmas-mad malls. At another, audiences hear about celebrating the holiday in a Nazi concentration camp.

The Fremont-based couple even wrote in a small part for a guest star, such as a local rabbi, willing to dress up like a fool and give bad acting a try. It always goes over well with audiences.

In keeping with their mom-and-pop approach, Scott Guggenheim directed the show, wife Shannon Guggenheim choreographed and wrote the lyrics, and Stephen Guggenheim (Scott’s brother and also a cantor) served as musical director and vocal arranger.

The Guggenheims have been in the game a long time. Both are Bay Area natives. (He’s from Saratoga, she’s from Alameda.) The two met in 1991 while doing regional theater together. Shannon converted to Judaism when she married Scott, and today they have a 2-year-old daughter.

If the credo of capitalism is “find a need, then fill it,” then the Guggenheims certainly rate as top-drawer entrepreneurs. With their love of theater, they launched Guggenheim Entertainment, developing theatrical productions for companies, theme parks and malls.

They also started the National Jewish Theatre Festival, which stages Jewish productions for schools, synagogues and community gatherings. “The MeshugaNutcracker” remains the crown jewel of the NJTF.

The Guggenheims hope to take the show to other cities, perhaps have multiple repertory productions going. They also have other projects in the works including “Queen Esther,” a cabaret-style musical about Purim and a theatrical tribute to Anne Frank called “Songs of Hope.”

But for now, it’s all about spinning dreidels and shayna maidels in “The MeshugaNutcracker.

“This show really captures the things that make Chanukah what it is,” says Scott Guggenheim. “There’s lots of fun to be had.”

“The MeshugaNutcracker” plays at 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, and 2 p.m. on Sundays from Dec. 7 to 26, at the Showtime Theater at Paramount’s Great America, 4701 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara. Tickets: $15-$25. Information: (877) 456-4849.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.