A kosher ‘Nutcracker’ in Fenton? What are you, nuts?

Members of the cast of “The MeshugaNutcracker!” which will play here at the Gravois Bluffs Stadium 12 theater in Fenton at 7 p.m. on Dec. 19.  Photo: Kersh Branz Photography

Ellen Futterman, Editor

Hard to fathom 

Owned by the three largest film distributors — AMC Entertainment Inc., Cinemark Holdings, Inc. and Regal Entertainment — Fathom Events offers a variety of one-of-a-kind entertainment experiences in movie theaters. These include live, high-definition performances of the Metropolitan Opera, and dance and theater productions like the Bolshoi Ballet and National Theatre Live, as well as special “one-night-only” screenings of movie classics, music concerts, sporting events and the like.

On Tuesday, Dec. 19, coinciding with the end of Hanukkah, Fathom is presenting — for one night only — the movie version of “The MeshugaNutcracker!” As you might have guessed, the musical riffs off Tchaikovsky’s score of the “The Nutcracker,” to showcase eight stories that pay tribute to the first celebrations of Hanukkah in the new state of Israel, as well as Judah Maccabee’s triumphant saga and accounts from the history of Jewish perseverance.

The movie is, in a word, terrific. It’s filled with clever songs, humorous as well as poignant storytelling and fantastic costumes, not to mention dancing dreidels and singing sufganiyot. It’s the kind of family entertainment that many of us crave during a December holiday season packed with Christmas films on both the big and small screens. I mean, really, would it kill the Hallmark Channel to make one Hanukkah-themed confection in its oeuvre of holiday fluff?

But I digress.

I’m telling you about “The MeshugaNutcracker!” because I’m sure many of you would enjoy seeing it. However, to do so, you must travel to the Gravois Bluffs Stadium 12 in Fenton, which is the only theater where it is playing (at 7 p.m. Dec. 19) in the St. Louis area. So you can understand why I find Fathom’s decision to show the movie in Fenton hard to fathom, especially on a weeknight.

When I mentioned this to Scott Guggenheim, who produced and directed “The MeshugaNutcracker!” he said he and his creative team have nothing to do with choosing the theater locations. He notes that while non-Jews have enjoyed the film, it clearly is intended for Jewish audiences. 

The film is based on a play created by Guggenheim, his wife, Shannon, and brother, Stephen, in 2003 to deal with the “December dilemma.” Five Jewish community centers in the San Francisco Bay Area asked them to create “an experiential event” that would entertain audiences of all ages but also had an educational component. 

“The original concept was telling the true story of Judah Maccabee and bringing that to fruition,” said Guggenheim. “We soon realized the stories of Judah Maccabee were far more violent and far less easy to be told by themselves. That’s when we came up with telling eight stories for eight nights. 

“My brother and I grew up with our grandparents telling us Chelm stories, so I really wanted to bring that to life.”

The film, which unfolds exactly like a play, is set in Chelm — a fictional town of fools — with eight actors known as the Chelmnicks, and a surprise guest, learning about the history and traditions of Hanukkah. While most of the action is lively and fun, the actors also recount tales of Jewish survival and persistence from medieval times as well as the Holocaust.

“It became important to us to show the light, to show the love, to show the strength of our people in the wake of such evil,” said Guggenheim, whose grandmother, Ruth Copperman, was from St. Louis.

Speaking of grandmothers, Guggenheim adds that inspiration for the show came from the thought of Bubbe and Zeide taking their grandchildren to see the film year after year. 

“This was not intended as a secular piece,” said Guggenheim. “We knew from the beginning the show had limited legs. It’s only appropriate to run between Thanksgiving and Christmas, so filming it was exciting to us and gives it exposure to a larger audience.”

Let’s hope. And for some reason if you don’t see it this year in Fenton, perhaps next year in Creve Coeur?

For tickets and more information, go to fathomevents.com.


Brotherly love

On the subject of Jewish entertainment for the holidays, comedians and twin brothers Jason and Randy Sklar, proud graduates of Parkway North High School, are slated to perform six shows at the Helium Comedy Club in the St. Louis Galleria from Dec. 13-16. 

The Sklar brothers grew up in Creve Coeur, where their mother still lives. Each celebrated his bar mitzvah at Congregation B’nai Amoona and was active in BBYO. These days they both have their own families and live in Los Angeles, but not with each other.

Tickets to the Helium shows are $16-24 for general admission; $24-32 for reserved seats. For more information, go to st-louis.heliumcomedy.com.


Veterans unite

Last week, members of the St. Louis chapter of the Jewish War Veterans presented Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens with a Certificate of Appreciation for his military service. He received a letter from the National Commander of the Jewish War Veterans, membership in the organization, a cap, a Purple Heart pin and a copy of the Veteran newspaper. 

“He was very cordial,” said Dennis Cohen, Commander of Jewish War Veterans Post 644 St Louis. “He said he believed his grandfather, (who served in) World War II, was a member of Jewish War Veterans.”


Anti-Semitic incidents at Webster High

The Webster-Kirkwood Times ran a story in its Dec. 1 edition about anti-Semitic and racial incidents at Webster Groves High School. The article cited “two instances of swastikas drawn on the wall in a stairwell at the south end of the building and in a bathroom stall” at the high school, and a Jewish student saying “he witnessed a classmate giving a Nazi salute and shouting for ‘White Power.’”

The story said Webster Groves High School Principal Jon Clark sent an email to parents informing them of the swastikas. He also told of  “steps being taken not only in response to these particular incidents, but on how the district is creating a learning environment where all students feel safe, welcome and valued.”

Webster Groves School District Superintendent John Simpson added that the high school has partnered with the Anti-Defamation League in equity and social justice training for several teachers, staff and students. Some parents, however, voiced concern that the district was not doing enough.

To read the whole story, go to http://bit.ly/Webster-incidents.