Let’s face it—the holidays aren’t all cocoa and Santa Claus hugs. Sure, we all want to get into the spirit of the season, but does that have to mean watching back-to-back showings of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Story, again?

Cabrillo Stage’s A Night at the Nutcracker invites you to step away from the Hallmark Channel and remember what Christmas is really about: the Marx Brothers. Loosely mimicking the 1935 classic A Night at the Opera, the performance that unfolds is riddled with their classic formula of slapstick, one-liners, puns, zingers, horns, hoots, hollers—with a dose of Sugar Plum Fairy sprinkled in for good measure.

It’s Opening Night Eve at the Park Avenue mansion of Constance Stuffington, and the money she’s sponsored for the performance of The Nutcracker has disappeared. Her daughter Edie suspects her mother’s smarmy new fiancé, Mr. Ratchette. On the advice of Pepponi, their Italian-ish butler, and his silent partner Pinchie, she enlists the service of the World’s Greatest Detective, wisecracking Felix T Filibuster.

High-energy antics and arabesques ensue when a sack full of cash is mistaken for a prop and delivered to the theater. By this time, the dancers have all gotten wind that the bank is empty and flown the coop, but the show must go on. And it does—with some artistic license.

The shtick is big-hearted without being cloyingly sweet. The cast swings from punches to punch lines with talent and enthusiasm, and builds nicely to the ridiculous grand finale. The musical numbers are light and, for the most part, short and sweet. Edie’s fiancé, Eddie, is the only one who tries to distract his distraught cohorts from the problems at hand with ballads of love and Christmas joy, and he’s quickly shut up after a few verses. As Edie puts it, “That’s great, sweetie, but it really doesn’t solve the issue.”

This year, I’m inclined to agree. What we really need is a few good belly laughs to get us through the season. And everyone knows there’s nothing more hilarious than seeing someone get hit on the head with a giant hammer.

'A Night at the Nutcracker' runs through Dec. 30 at the Crocker Theater at Cabrillo College in Aptos.