Hannukatz the Musical
Book and Lyrics by Terry Abrahamson
The best made plans of cats and men
|New National Pastime Theater presents|
|Hannukatz the Musical|
Review by Anuja Vaidya
Hannukatz is not your typical musical. It is not your typical show about Hannukah. It isn’t even your typical holiday show. It is an unusual amalgam of all three. This results in some entertaining moments, but ultimately it feels as though this production is trying too hard to be different and funny.
As you probably guessed, Hannukatz The Musical is about the story of Hannukah. It begins with the rather clichéd plotline of Jewish kids who believe that Hannukah is the Jewish Chirstmas and are upset because they don’t get any gifts like their Christian friends. Several stories and songs later, they find out all about why Hannukah is celebrated and come to appreciate it. What’s so atypical about that, you may ask? A 6-foot tall Jewish cat wearing tie-dye clothes and a yarmulke (or a “meowmulkah”) leads the singing and the storytelling. He is Hannukatz, the hippie kitty who is the new-age miracle sent by God to put any misperceptions about Hannukah to rest.
The performances are high-energy and the cast seems to be enjoying every minute of it. Rachel Pallante, in particular, shines as Syl Moskowitz, a Jewish mother to the hilt. It is a family show and certainly a way to teach kids (and even adults) about Hannukah. There is a whole lot of audience participation and there are some hilarious topical jokes, such as King Antiochus’ oppressive decree that all Jewish babies will be named Mel and be given the middle name Gibson. The Jewish version of opening a can of whoop-ass is another hysterical segment.
However, you can’t escape the feeling that this pun-a-minute show is over-doing it. It is almost as though it is trying too hard to be whacky but it at points it ends up being kitschy. The hippie Jewish cat telling the story of Hannukah seems to be non sequitur. If the use of a giant talking cat was to be humorous, or appeal to children, it misses its mark. More often than not, the jokes fall flat and some are tasteless. The cast’s zeal does not make up for the patchy comic timing. The timing in the dialogue delivery itself seems to be off. It takes a while to get to the actual telling of the story of Hannukah (which is the best part of the play) and this makes the play feel longer than it is. While the singing is good, it is sometimes over-ridden by the music, which makes it hard to follow the story.
It is clear that this is a well-meaning production meant to be a fun but offbeat family show, and it certainly has its moments. Unfortunately, due to its oddball humor, it comes across as bizarre and not quite as much fun as it tries to be.
Hannukatz the Musical continues through December 30th at Preston Bradley Center, 941 W. Lawrence (map), with performances Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3pm and 8pm, Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $10-$25, and are available by phone (773-327-7077) or online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at npt2.com. (Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes, no intermission)
Photos by Gia
Wellington Da Silva (Hannukatz); Isaac Samuelson (Josh); Maren Rosenberg (Emily); Rachel Pallante (Syl); Jordan Levin (Gil)
behind the scenes
Shifra Werch (director, choreographer); Larry Rothbard (music director); Laurence Bryan* (producer); Keely Haddad-Null* (production manager); Alek White (stage manager); Sarah Ross (set design); Emma Cullimore (costumes) Scott Pillsbury (lighting); Melissa Schlesinger (props, sound design); David Denman (carpenter, painter); Elayne LeTraunik* (public relations); Lisa Dell (marketing, publicity); Nolen Otts* (graphic design); Christopher Merrill* (web design)
*donotes National Pastime Theater company member