Review: ‘Shoshana In December’ at Custommade Theater (*****)

Lena Sibony could not possibly be more charismatic and delightful as Shoshana in “Shoshana In December,” a new musical produced at Custommade Theater in association with FaultLine Theater.
Reviewed by a voting member of the San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle.

by Charles Kruger

When Lena Sibony as Shoshana takes center stage in the opening moments of “Shoshona in December,” and eases into the first song, it feels like the audience is getting a great big hug. Which is ironic, because the subject of Jewish Shoshana’s lyric is how she freezes up every December. Can’t seem to help herself. To wit:

“IT SHOULDN’T CHANGE THE STORY OR FILL MY HEART WITH
HURT/TO “FA-LA-LA-LA-LA” OR EAT A PEPPERMINT DESSERT/
BUT WHEN EACH YEAR THIS MERRY MONTH APPEARS…
I FREEZE.”

The point is punctuated by a few members of the ensemble entering in Christmas Caroling garb to sing (in Latin – here loosely translated): “SHOSHANA LOVES CHRISTMAS AND SHE’LL KEEP HER MOUTH SHUT….” -in Gregorian-style chant.

It was at this moment, as I burst out laughing, I thought: “This is really gonna be good…..”

I wasn’t a bit disappointed.

Shoshana freezes in December, not just because she is Jewish, but because her mother, Rebecca, is militantly anti-Christmas. As played with exuberance by Sara Felder, Rebecca is warm and affectionate, but she has her views.

Shoshana recalls a fourth grade drawing contest one December, when all the kiddos had to draw reindeer. Rebecca was furious.

“It’s just an animal,” protested little Shoshana.

Rebecca responds, “They are Christmas animals. And if Mrs. Tasker thinks otherwise, she can host her reindeer contest next June.” The point is hard to dispute.

But coloring reindeer is not the problem facing Shoshana as a grown woman. She is in love with boyfriend Danny, who is in love with his guitar. After some years, she delicately hints at her desire for something more: “Danny,” she asks. “Would you rather have a baby or be a baby?”

“Be a baby,” says Dan. “So I could start taking guitar lessons at a younger age.”

“So you don’t want to have a baby?” asks Shoshana.

Dan responds: “Is this how we are having this conversation?”

Shoshana is frustrated. And it’s December. And she’s frozen inside. And she knows she is bisexual. And that something has to burst.

Something does: Enter Cicely, played enticingly by Kaitlin Ortega.

Cicely is hotter than hot, and Shoshana starts to heat up. But, she tells Cicely, I have a partner. Cicely does too, as it turns out. And Cicely doesn’t see a problem.

And there you have it. Will bisexual polyamory involving a Jewish girl with a Christian girl and her Christmas-mad family be enough to unfreeze poor Shoshana without destroying her relationship with Danny or upsetting her Mom?

It’s a helluva setup for a Christmas musical and the entire company has a ball with it, working as a well-orchestrated ensemble. Everyone on stage is delightful. The music and the lyrics are sparking and bright. The efficient set design by Matthew Owens does a lot with a little. Nolan Miranda’s costume designs are suitably festive, as is lighting by Maxx Kuzunski.

Special call out to Intimacy Choreographer Hannah Westbrook. Her staging of the number “Super Nova” in which the frozen Shoshana decidedly melts is funny, touching, hot as the Sahara, and tasteful to boot.

I fell in love with “Shoshana” at first sight. I bet you will too.

“Shoshana in December” continues at the Custommade Theater through December 18, 2022. For further information, click here.

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Rating: *****

(For an explanation of TheatreStorm’s rating scale, click here.)
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“Shoshana in December,” a new musical with book by Rose Oser, music by Matt Fukui Grandy. Director: Vanessa Flores. Music Director: Kipi Lipsett. Choreographer: Meredith Joelle Charlson. Scenic Designer: Matthew Owens.  Costume Designer: Nolan Miranda. Lighting Maxx Kurzunski. Sound Designer: Ted Cordano, Jr. Properties Designer: Samantha Alexa. Intimacy Choreographer: Muffy Koster. Intimacy Choreographer “Super Nova”: Hannah Westbrook.

Cast:

Rebecca: Sara Felder. Randy/Michael: John Mannion. Cecily: Kaitlin Ortega. Shoshana: Lena Sibony. Danny: Evan Wardell. Elaine: Stephanie Rae Wilborn.

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