Review: Strawdog’s Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins Is Great Fun for All Ages

Strawdog Theatre is giving Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins a spin during the holiday season for all children and grownups to enjoy. This show directed by Hannah Todd is from the book by Eric Kimmel, adapted by Michael Dailey, with music and lyrics by Jacob Combs, and music direction by Ricky Harris.

I grew up with How the Grinch Stole Christmas from Dr. Seuss and its scary implications. I had never heard a Hanukkah story until The Magic Door appeared on television Sunday mornings before Jubilee Showcase.

Hershel and his friends are a traveling music show called the Ovals of Ostropol. Before the play begins, the ensemble presents a pre-show of singing, juggling and optical illusions to warm the audience up and get the mood going for music and comedy. Hershel is played by the vivacious Jordan Zelvin, whose acting and expressions are vivid. She has lovely expressive eyes and a great smile. The members of this ensemble are multi-talented and all play instruments as well as slapstick.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins ensemble. Photo by Jenn Udoni.

Melanie Vitaterna plays the accordion and is quite funny as Max and the innkeeper who will not give the troupe a meal or a place to sleep, even in the barn! Amy Gorelow is on string bass and has excellent comic timing. Edward Patterson plays Gavi and has a hilarious dual role as one of the goblins. Kat Zheng plays Sammy and she also plays a fine fiddle giving some really cool sound effects in addition to the Ukrainian scale klezmer. Nicholas Pardo does some juggling and plays a pretty good guitar. He also did that finger-disappearing trick and other zany fun stuff to keep the audience entertained.

This show flows with great timing, double-take reactions, and physical comedy. Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins is similar to vaudeville, which has a rich Jewish history that laid the foundation for recent theater productions like The Producers and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Todd's direction is crisp and well-paced with each scene giving every cast member room to be seen without upstaging. The scenic designer is Caitlin McLeod, co-designer of the puppets with props designer Rocio Cabrera. The puppets stretched the imagination but that is the purpose—creating yet another imaginary world of the supernatural.

Nicholas Pardo and Melanie Vitaterna. Photo by Jenn Udoni.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins tells the story of Hanukkah in a way that one of any spiritual tradition would understand. It is particularly good for children to learn about other traditions and have a healthy curiosity about other cultures. It is a well-loved children's classic book that comes to life without talking down to young readers and provides lovely visual elements that will enhance any future reading of the story. I recommend it as a holiday season tradition for families of all cultures.

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins by Strawdog Theatre continues through December 31 at the Edge Off-Broadway, 1133 W. Catalpa. Running time is one hour. Remaining performances are sold out but you can sign up for the waitlist here.

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.