Jewschool: Handle With Care: A Jewish Play Born From An Interfaith Marriage

Originally published on Jewschool.

Handle With CareWhen I first skimmed the press release for Handle With Care, a play currently running off-Broadway in the theater that used to house Old Jews Telling Jokes, I thought I had the whole thing figured out in advance: a non-Jewish playwright married an Israeli actress and wrote a show for her. Simple, I thought. It must be a comedy exploring the hilarity of intermarriage, like an Abie’s Irish Rose for the Pew Report generation. I couldn’t have been more wrong. For although playwright Jason Odell Williams has written a play about love bridging disparate lives, it’s about a burgeoning love affair between an Israeli Jew and an American Jew, finding each other in the most unlikely of circumstances: their “meet cute” occurs when a delivery man loses the box containing the remains of Ayelet’s recently deceased grandmother, which he was supposed to be bringing to the airport for return to Israel. Josh, Ayelet’s love interest, is the delivery man’s only Jewish friend, so naturally he gets the call to help translate the situation to the distressed Israeli who speaks very little English.

The result is a charming romantic comedy that would be right at home on JCC stages anywhere in the country. That the play was written by someone who’s not himself Jewish (although he is part of a Jewish family) is surprising, so I was glad to have the opportunity to speak with both Williams and his wife (and star of the show) Charlotte Cohn about that play, their marriage, and working with one’s spouse. Continue reading

Talkin’ Broadway: Book Review – Newsies: Stories of the Unlikely Broadway Hit

Originally published on TalkinBroadway.com.

Newsies: Stories of the Unlikely Broadway HitThere’s an entire genre of books detailing the “making of” Broadway musicals from idea to opening night, and it’s not hard to understand why. Few musicals spring forth fully formed from the minds of their creators, no matter how perfect the final product. The collaborative nature of theater, and musical theater in particular, ensures that the birthing process involves disparate artists hoping to merge their individual visions into one production, and their individual personalities into a team. When the unified vision, or the team, fails to coalesce, you may end up with a Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark situation, where the creative differences and the backstabbing combined to make a narrative more interesting than the show itself. But as Newsies: Stories of the Unlikely Broadway Hit demonstrates, even a relatively smooth creative process can make for a good read. Taking the form of an oral history, including diverse voices from the property’s history brought together by editor (and Newsies dramaturg) Ken Cerniglia, this new addition to the genre makes an entertaining and informative read, whether you’re a “Fansie” or not.

If the word “Fansie”—that’s what Newsies fandom has dubbed itself—causes you to make involuntary gagging noises, don’t worry. Although this book might look at first glance like an elaborate souvenir program pandering to teenage girls, the “Fansie” content is limited to a few interstitial pages of fan-submitted photos and quotes about how the film or the show affected their lives. Well, that’s only half true, for one of the biggest revelations of the book is how many members of the team that brought Newsies to Broadway, from management to designers to (especially) the dancers, were inspired by the original film to pursue careers in the arts. Continue reading

The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert

Originally published on The Craptacular.

Encores!

Love Broadway musicals but hate having to sit through all that talking between the songs? You’re in luck. In the next couple of months, you can catch the New York Philharmonic doing Sweeney Todd in Concert, Lincoln Center hosting Titanic in Concert, Carnegie Hall offering Guys and Dolls in Concert, and 54 Below with concert revivals of Smokey Joe’s Cafe and Side Show on deck. But most importantly, the 21st season of Encores! Great American Musicals in Concert kicks off with Little Me the first week of February. Believe it or not, once upon a time, concert productions of older shows didn’t fill our concert halls and nightclubs. There was the occasional Kern or Gershwin show dusted off at Carnegie Hall or the Library of Congress, and starry casts came together for special events like Follies in Concert, but they were just that—special events. Continue reading

The Craptacular: Remedial Queens: The Five “Bs” of Bob Fosse

Originally published on The Craptacular.

Even though Bob Fosse’s been dead longer than many of our readers have been alive, I can’t imagine that anyone here doesn’t have at least a passing familiarity with his work. After all, two of his signature shows (Pippin and Chicago) are currently running on Broadway, each in a hit revival received even more enthusiastically than the original. And what do those revivals have in common? Both took great pains to create choreography “in the style of Bob Fosse,” including recreating Fosse’s own steps for big numbers in each – “The Manson Trio” (the dance break in “Glory”) in Pippin and “Hot Honey Rag” in Chicago. With no disrespect to the other great choreographers of Broadway, while original dances from De Mille, Robbins, and Bennett have been recreated, no one else created a style so recognizable and enviable that people today still strive to work (and market their work as) “in the style of” anyone other than Fosse.

Given Fosse’s enduring popularity and fascinating personal life—more on that in a sec—I predict that Sam Wasson’s excellent new biography will be as in demand as Pippin tickets. The 700-page opus takes us from Fosse’s funeral back to his childhood dancing in the slimiest burlesque houses Chicago had to offer, through the romances and bromances of the showman who made history as the first (and still only) to win the best director Oscar, Tony, and Emmy awards all within a year. Continue reading

Jewesses With Attitude: Jackie Hoffman Doesn’t Care If You Find The Feminist Message

Originally posted on Jewesses With Attitude.

HoffmanThroughout March, Baruch College Performing Arts Center has been presenting a series of Jewish comediennes in partnership with the Jewish Women’s Archive and Baruch’s Jewish Studies Center called “Solo in the City: Jewish Women, Jewish Stars”. With a mix of well-known names and up-and-comers in the lineup, the series defies the temptation to draw generalizations about funny Jewesses.

Jackie Hoffman, beloved in theatrical circles for her take-no-prisoners approach to musical comedy (sample lyric: “fuck you for asking me to do a show for free! / fuck you and your benefit for charity”), is at once an ideal and a challenging performer for such a series. Undeniably funny and with a deep understanding of Judaism (she’s the black sheep of an Orthodox family), she knows she can draw a typical Jewish audience in with songs criticizing Jewish Buddhists (“Inner peace and joy are overrated / come back to the fold of the most-hated”) and pushy mothers on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. But when her paean to Shavuot includes lines like “Ten Commandments God gave to us so that we won’t sin again / Ten Commandments I break every day by eating pork and Christian men,” you know this isn’t your typical JCC fare.  Continue reading

Interfaith Family: Review of Reflections of a Loving Partner: Caregiver at the End of Life

Originally published on InterfaithFamily.

Death is much like the famous aphorism about opinions: everyone will have one. Unlike opinions, we tend to keep our thoughts about death to ourselves. On one level, this makes sense: death is scary and it’s a downer, sure to put a damper on any conversation. But on another level, it is our avoidance of the topic that makes death scary. In Reflections of a Loving Partner: Caregiving at the End of Life, author C. Andrew Martin not only makes the case for a healthy discussion of death, he models how to talk about death and offers exercises to assist the reader in considering the inevitable.

Reflections is equal parts memoir and self-help book. Martin became an expert on death and dying in the worst way possible — through the AIDS diagnosis and eventual loss of his partner Gil Victor Ornelas in the mid-1990s. Rather than passively watch his beloved slip away, Martin took action, enrolling in a hospice volunteer-training program so that he could become a more effective caregiver.

Today, Martin is a certified nurse specializing in hospice and palliative care, and his knowledge and sensitivity informs every page. Despite his current expertise, Martin ably recreates the sense of floundering helplessness as well as the desire to learn from his early days. As readers, we accompany Martin in his education about hospice, benefitting from his education as well as the provocative questions his hospice teacher posed at the end of each training session. These questions, along with additional questions Martin includes in the appendix, provide opportunities for the reader to examine one’s own assumptions and beliefs about death and dying. As Martin makes clear, this process is valuable whether one is struggling with someone dying at the moment or not. After all, it is inevitable that at some point in everyone’s life, death enters the scene, and we’re better off having some preparation.  Continue reading

JewishBoston.com: From Brookline to the Big Time: Eli “Paperboy” Reed Makes Major Label Debut

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

created at: 2010-08-25A number of years ago, I received an excited phone call from a friend. “You’ve got to hear this guy I just met,” she enthused. “He’s a little Jewish kid from Brookline who sings soul like the best of Motown.” She was talking about Eli “Paperboy” Reed, the baby-faced Bostonian who’s been one of Massachusetts’s best-kept musical secrets for years.

That’s finally starting to change, with the release of his first major-label album, Come and Get It!, which debuted from Capitol Records a couple of weeks ago. If you’re already a fan, you’ll be delighted to find exactly what you’ve come to expect from Eli and his band, the True Loves: exciting rhythm & blues music that bounces from explosive excitement to palpable yearning, backed by the best horn section this side of Blood, Sweat & Tears.  Continue reading

Jewschool.com: Anatomy of an Activist

Originally published on Jewschool.com. A slightly revised version was later published in the anthology Living Jewishly: A Snapshot of a Generation.

It took a long time for me to be comfortable calling myself an activist. Although I have been in positions of leadership of some sort or another ever since the fateful night towards the end of the fifth grade when I forgot about Kadima elections and got voted in as the Religious Education Vice President in absentio (when I found out I sobbed), I’ve always seen a difference between “leadership” and “activism.”

When I look back, I can now trace the origin of my career as an activist to one moment, on Shabbat Shuva of 1997. The fall of 1997 began my sophomore year of college. True to form, I had found my way into several leadership positions on campus: I was director of a musical, co-chair of Hillel’s Shabbat committee, and one of four gabbaim (organizers) of the Conservative minyan.

A year earlier, I had kicked off my time in college by coming out to my parents. I had set a deadline with myself that I wanted to be out of the closet by the time I started college, and since I’m bad with deadlines, I told them as they were getting back into the car after unloading everything I owned into my dorm room. I imagined that once I told my parents, I would be “out” and it would cease to be a big deal in my life. Of course, that’s not how it works, and when a half-hour later I found myself in a room full of 40 other new freshmen, I couldn’t figure out how to share this newly open piece of my identity, so I kept quiet about it.
Continue reading

Jewschool.com: The Second Coming

Originally posted on Jewschool.com.

I apologize if this is old news for you, but I had only heard rumors until today, when I was able to confirm this important story with my own eyes, teeth, and tongue in my natural habitat of Boston. In fact, as I sit typing this right now, I am indulging in a sensual pleasure that I thought was lost to the ages.

Hydrox100_jehThe Hydrox cookie is back.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Hydrox, it was (as the new packaging proudly proclaims) “America’s first crème filled chocolate cookie,” introduced into the marketplace in 1908 by the Sunshine Biscuit Company. However, its real claim to fame for generations of American Jews is that it was a (hekshered) kosher alternative to the then-forbidden treifa Oreo. (Those who spend time thinking about this subject — and who doesn’t? — note the irony that while history points to the 1912 birth of Oreo as a likely sign that the cookie was “inspired” by the Hydrox, those-who-spend-somewhat-less-time-thinking-about-this-subject often mistook the Hydrox as an Oreo knock-off. For shame.) Growing up kosher, Hydrox were like a lunchroom in-joke, a shared culinary secret handshake that likely united more Jews in America than shaking a lulav or laying tefillin ever did. To many of us, the taste of a Hydrox dunked in skim milk is the taste of Jewish childhood. Continue reading

Talkin’ Broadway: Brooklyn Boy

Originally published on Talkin’ Broadway.

Victor Warren and Ken Baltin

Victor Warren and Ken Baltin

We’ve all heard the platitude “you can never go home again,” but Donald Margulies isn’t listening. In his play Brooklyn Boy, now playing a limited engagement at the SpeakEasy Stage Company, Margulies counters this cliché both in his story and in his setting.

The plot follows newly successful author Eric Weiss as he takes a detour from his book tour to visit his ailing father in the Brooklyn hospital where he himself was born. The return to Brooklyn is also significant for playwright Margulies, whose early successes were all set in Brooklyn, a site he hasn’t written about since 1991’s Sight Unseen. But whether the return is significant to the audience is a somewhat more complicated question. Continue reading