"great tribute to Jewish History"
by Aline Waites for remotegoat on 13/02/17

If you feel you want to have real entertainment what do you do? You go to an American musical. Entertainment that is dominated by the mixture of sentimentality sweet music and cynical humour that is the hallmark of Jewish performers.

In this show, Chris Burgess is showing us how this style evolved and has constructed a show in which he traces the beginnings in American Jewish history from the earliest immigrants right up to the present day.

The songs they brought with them were in Yiddish, and here they have been thoughtfully translated into English by the author. For instance, we have Schlof Mein Kind, sung first in its original tongue and then in English as Sleep my child.

Behind the actors and on space is a truly magnificent but tiny orchestra led by Charlie Ingles/Alex Bellamy, Andrew Richards, Joe Atkin Reeves and James Pritchard. It is a simple setting but it is all that is needed. Just the Gatehouse star cloth and some attractive and effective lighting by Ben M Rogers.

It is comparatively recently that Jewishness is used as a banner rather than something to be hidden. Sophie Tucker did it with her Yiddisher Mamma and other songs, she was one of the few. Irving Berlin who put a little Jewish humour into an early number a about a typical Jewish man on his deathbed, he says to his children, ‘Cohen owes me ninety-seven dollars.’ Making sure they get what is owed to them after he’s gone.

Many of the Jewish community – like Al Jolson worked in Blackface Minstrel shows. For many years, the Jewish community were cautious about showing their Jewishness trying to turn themselves into real Americans – many of them making a fortune on Hollywood running the film studios. To celebrate this, the cast go into numbers from Mack and Mabel (Movies were Movies) and others that celebrated Al Jolson as the first voice to be heard on film in the ‘Jazz Singer’.

The rise of Hitler made life even more dangerous for the Community but they managed to inject

Jewishness injected into music and shows surreptitiously. Oklahoma was a story about lost people finding and praising their new homeland. Gershwin managed to put Jewish cadences into Rhapsody in Blue.

In this show the music of Irving Berlin, Gerry Herman and Gershwin, comedians like the Marx Brothers, Fanny Brice and Woody Allen are well represented. Along with excellent impressions of Barbra Streisand who bore her pedigree like a banner. Streisand turned Jewishness into fashion almost singlehandedly, refusing to alter her appearance and getting through simply on her amazing three octave voice and acting talent. Joanna Lee and Emma Odell give excellent impressions of her -most especially ‘Don’t rain on my Parade’ which exactly expresses the singer’s Independent personality.

The other two actors Matthew Barrow and David McKechnie both have first class voices and he whole company have fun with a rapid fire of quotations – one of Goldwynisms and another of phrases from The Marx Brothers.

But the most moving part is when they perform a song that has never been heard since the second world war. A heart-breaking number, beautifully harmonised by the company, was composed in a Ghetto by people waiting to be sent off to a concentration camp. It is this raw emotion that adds power to this production, directed by Kate Golledge and performed with enjoyment and lots of fun.

A happy occasion and a great tribute to Jewish History and American Entertainment

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