MeshugaNutcracker as zany as ever in return to San Jose

After a four-year absence, the Chanukah musical “The MeshugaNutcracker!” returns to the Bay Area for a nearly three-week run at San Jose’s Retro Dome. It’s not the same show since it last played in town.

Drawing on musical themes from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker,” the two-act musical tells the tale of the daffy citizens of Chelm, the mythical shtetl of fools and nincompoops, who gather every year to perform at their Chanukah festival. Each tells a story of Chanukah heroes, from the time of the Maccabees through today.

Sharon Guggenheim co-stars and wrote the song lyrics, her husband, Scott, directs, and together they wrote the script based on the classic Chelm legends. Stephen Guggenheim oversaw the musical adaptations.

Staging the show at the Retro Dome keeps things all in the family. Last year, the Guggenheims leased and then converted the old Century 25 theater into San Jose’s latest live theater venue, renamed Retro Dome.

 

In a scene from “MeshugaNutcracker!” Yetta (Gabrielle McColgan), Yacob (Richard Sanchez) and Treitel (Shannon Guggenheim) recall the triumph of Judah Maccabee.

The Guggenheims couldn’t be happier to see “The MeshugaNutcracker!” back on its feet. It premiered in December 2003 and ran for four straight years every holiday season in venues across the Bay Area.

 

The show’s popularity within the Jewish community never flagged, but the Guggenheims were forced to limit their professional activities after the birth of daughter Ally, who was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy.

Now 3 years old, Ally still requires constant monitoring, and much of that responsibility falls to Shannon Guggenheim.

“Ally changed our world,” she says. “The next year [after she was born] came and we couldn’t do the show because our lives were in upheaval.”

Today, the Guggenheims say their daughter’s health is stable, which means the couple can get back to doing more theater. Their Chanukah musical remains one of their favorites, especially the new and improved version.

“We wanted to achieve the best of both worlds,” Shannon says, “to make sure the things about the show that were so charming and endearing before remained, but also to put a new spin on some of it.”

Spin is the operative word, since the show still features an outsized dancing dreidel. Three cast members (including Shannon) have returned to the show, while five new actors join the company this time around.

The Guggenheims retained another popular feature of past productions: a guest star in each performance, usually someone from a Jewish agency or institution volunteered by friends. It’s all part of the Guggenheims’ desire to add a tzedakah component to “The MeshugaNutcracker!” as a portion of the proceeds are donated to charity.

Seasoned theater professionals, the Guggenheims are thrilled to have their pet show back on its feet, and not only for artistic reasons.

“Our older daughter, Lily, was angling for us to do it,” Guggenheim says. “Now she gets more for her Jewish identity, and being able to provide that for her is very satisfying. It’s exciting to bring back this little Chanukah engine that could.”

“The MeshugaNutcracker!” runs Dec. 1-19, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. All shows take place at the Retro Dome, 1694 Saratoga Ave., San Jose. Tickets and information: www.theretrodome.com.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.