HowlRound: Reconstructing and Reimagining: Noah Diamond and the First Marx Brothers Musical

Originally published on HowlRound.

Noah Diamond needed a change. After co-writing and co-producing a series of topical musical comedies with his frequent collaborator (and now-wife) Amanda Sisk, Diamond was ready to shift gears. The typical developmental process for musical theatre doesn’t lend itself to their kind of timely, ripped-from-the-headlines shows, and Diamond was ready to stretch his legs creatively.

Seven years later and ninety years in the making, he prepared the first revival of the lost 1924 musical I’ll Say She Is, which is barely remembered today as the Broadway debut of The Marx Brothers.

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Keshet: An Interview with Luzer Twersky: From Ultra-Orthodox to “Transparent” Star

Originally published on Keshet’s blog on MyJewishLearning.com.

Luzer Twersky

Luzer Twersky is an actor who plays Mendel in Season Two of Amazon’s hit television show “Transparent.” He grew up in an insular Hasidic community in Brooklyn, which he left in his early 20s, with help from Footsteps, an organization that helps formerly ultra-Orthodox Jews integrate into mainstream society. He is best known for his role in the film “Félix & Meira,” which is Canada’s submission for the Best Foreign Language Oscar this year. Luzer spoke with Keshet’s David Levy last week after the first episode of “Transparent” was released.

DAVID LEVY: Let’s just start by saying congratulations on being part of “Transparent.” Have you had the opportunity to watch the finished product yet?

LUZER TWERSKY: I watched the first episode of the new season, and it’s very good. I’m very happy with it and very proud of it.

DL: I saw your name in the credits but didn’t spot you in the episode itself. I assume you’re in the German flashback?

LT: In the first episode I’m a little “blink-and-you-miss it.” These flashbacks will happen all season. You’ll see the parallel between what’s happening at the wedding with all the dancing and the craziness and what’s happening at this party filled with queers and gays and gender-fluid people, and then you see those same kind of people 100 years ago in Berlin. And you also notice that Simon, Maura’s nephew, seems to be in those scenes in Berlin. It’s all going to tie together.

And then you’ll notice at the end of the episode, when you see Ali standing on her balcony, and then you see someone next to her who we had seen dancing in that Berlin scene.  Continue reading

Jewschool: December Without Drama

Originally published on Jewschool.

Interfaith CardsLast year, the Jewish community fell all over itself to merchandise the intersection of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving, but we all know that outside this special exception, the organized community tends to look down at the mixing of Jewish holidays and those of other faiths. Alexis Gewertz and Chelsea Scudder, two New Englanders from interfaith backgrounds with divinity school educations, aim to change that. They are the creators of Happy Challadays, a new line of greeting cards for those looking to celebrate the holidays without the drama of the “December Dilemma.”

The idea grew out of Alexis’s own experience as both the daughter of an interfaith marriage and as the Jewish partner in a Jewish-Catholic relationship. “It was a Christmas home growing up,” she told me, “but we started celebrating Hanukkah when my parents got divorced. My mom wanted to send me Christmas cards because we really do celebrate with both families, but she spends the whole year searching for interfaith cards that she can send to me and [my partner] Steve together. In the past she’s found maybe three really awesome ones.”

It turns out, greeting cards are sort of a passion for Alexis. “I love capturing my thoughts and the vibe of the moment when I’m writing a card and putting it in the mail,” she said, “knowing that a few days later, whenever the recipients check the mail, they’re going to get this message. These days people are used to getting email instantly. I love with cards the old-school mystery of ‘is it going to take one day or three days?’ not knowing at what point they’re going to check that mail. I love getting cards because I love knowing that someone is thinking about me, and I feel that connection across the miles in a way that isn’t the same with virtual connections.” Continue reading

Jewschool: Meet the Man Behind The Men of the Naughty Jewish Boys Calendar

Originally published on Jewschool.

Naughty Jewish Boys CalendarLast February, I shared a link right here on Jewschool to a Craigslist ad advertising for models for a “Naughty Jewish Boys” calendar. I was so tickled by the idea when I saw it on my friend Duncan Pflaster‘s Facebook page, I didn’t even realize that he had posted the ad – or that the Jewschool post would bring it widespread Jewish media attention. Fast forward five months, and the calendar is a real thing that exists in the world in two versions: the regular and extra-naughty editions. I sat down with Duncan this week to chat about his adventures in putting these calendars together.

Naturally, the first thing I wanted to know about was what kind of controversy the calendar had generated. Duncan’s run-ins with the creator of the Nice Jewish Guys calendar have been well documented elsewhere, but I had to know: were religious people offended at the images of nearly-naked men with ritual objects? Were liberals offended at a non-Jewish photographer eroticizing or even fetishizing Jewish men? Nope. “Most everybody has thought it’s been a fantastic idea,” he told me, “Especially the Jewish press.” While he did have a couple of people get upset over eroticizing Judaism, the more common response has been from women saying “it’s incredible. Thank you so much for doing this.” Continue reading

Jewschool: Making the Stars of David Sing

Originally published on Jewschool.com

Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk About Being Jewish debuted in 2005 and has been a perennial bar mitzvah gift ever since. The book, which features interviews by Abigail Pogrebin with about five dozen celebrities about their Jewish identities, is now an off-Broadway musical. Pogrebin is no stranger to the musical stage; she chronicled her experience as an original cast member of the infamous Stephen Sondheim flop Merrily We Roll Along in her 2011 Kindle Single Showstopper. This morning I chatted with her about the experience of writing Stars of David, both book and musical, and how her evolving Jewish identity has shaped the project.

In the introduction to the book, she discusses that part of the impetus for the project was that Jewish identity had crept up on her. She was married to a Jewish man, had two children approaching the ages when they might want to know something about what being Jewish meant, and she realized that she didn’t have an answer to that question. “I wasn’t necessarily honest with myself about why I started the book in the sense that I didn’t know how at sea I was, in terms of my own Jewish identity, when I approached famous people,” Pogrebin said. “I think sometimes stories are generated by some subconscious impulse to understand something for yourself. And I don’t want to over-analyze my motivations in starting the book, but I would say that having these frank conversations with some of our highest achievers made me look much more candidly at myself, and I realized I hadn’t answered a lot of the questions I was asking, personally.”

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Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim: The Bluest Ink

Originally published on Fuck Yeah Stephen Sondheim.

The first thing you notice about Max Friedman and Charlie Rosen is how young they are. Okay, if you’re reading this on Tumblr, you might be younger than they are, but from my perspective at the ancient-by-gay-New-York-standards age of 35, it’s shocking how accomplished these two guys are before either has hit the age of 24. But it’s their Mickey and Judy “Let’s put on a show” enthusiasm combined with serious chops honed on Broadway, in cabarets, and beyond, that give us the first inkling (get it?) of what to expect from their new multimedia Sondheim revue, The Bluest Ink, debuting tomorrow night at Le Poisson Rouge.

“When I was in high school,” said Friedman, “I was obsessed with Sondheim, and I was obsessed with revues like Putting It Together and Side By Side By Sondheim and this more obscure one they did in London called Moving On. I thought there were a lot of stories you could tell using Sondheim songs.” Friedman envisioned putting these songs into a new context to tell a story they hadn’t yet been employed to tell — that of his generation of New Yorkers in their early 20s in today’s hyper-connected world.

Friedman and Rosen had already teamed up on are project, Charlie Rosen’s Broadway Big Band (in residency at 54 Below), and when Rosen put together a swing arrangement of “What More Do I Need” (from Saturday Night), Friedman knew he found the right collaborator for his Sondheim show.

Rosen approaches Sondheim’s material with a careful balance of reverence and creativity. “It requires a bit of care,” Rosen said. “Sondheim’s chords and harmonies and melodies are so beautiful and work so well together that you have to use very careful taste and judgment to not destroy what already works so well, while being fresh and imaginative with a little bit of risk-taking with some new harmony that comes out of my jazz education and they movement of modern jazz.” While the team isn’t revealing the song list before the show, they’ve hinted at a mix of favorites and lesser-known gems, with some interesting medleys and juxtapositions to bring new perspective to some of the more familiar tunes.

They’re joined by six musicians and a cast of four young performers “having their Beth/Mary/Frank/Charley moment of opening all the right doors,” according to Friedman, who hopes this show will help expose them to a broader audience as well.

Besides the youthful aspect of this production, the other element tying it to this moment in history is the extensive use of multimedia, by animator Ilana Schwartz. “The multimedia is something I was always hoping to bring to the show,” said Friedman. “The whole idea of ‘The Bluest Ink’ is the difference between writing and living — ‘the bluest ink isn’t really sky.’ A lot of the show takes place with the cast scrawling into notepads as they sing, and what you’ll see in the projections is their doodles — their thoughts really coming to life.”

Although The Bluest Ink’s stand at Le Poisson Rouge is a one night only production, the team hopes the show will have further life in a theatrical setting. But for now, tomorrow night is your only chance to see this jazzy, youthful new take on some of your favorite Sondheim songs — and some you may not know so well — so if you’re in New York, there’s only one place to be tomorrow night at 10.

JewishBoston.com: Four Questions with philanthropist Jay Ruderman

Originally published on JewishBoston.com.

created at: 2011-10-19Jay Ruderman is the president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, a leading funder of disability advocacy in the Jewish community and programs strengthening the relationship between Israelis and American Jews. Although originally from Massachusetts, Jay now lives in Rehovot, Israel. He blogs at Zeh Lezeh (For One Another) and is currently preparing for the second annual Advance Conference focused on funding Jewish special needs initiatives.

 

 

Why has advocacy for Jewish people with disabilities become so central to your philanthropy?

The Ruderman Family Foundation believes that inclusion of people with disabilities is essential if we are to be proud of our Jewish community. As Jews, we can’t be proud of the type of relationship we have with each other and with our brothers in Israel if some members of the Jewish community are left out, and that is exactly the situation that we face today. Jewish people with disabilities do not have the same opportunities as everyone else and that is fundamentally unfair. They don’t have the same opportunities for employment – many Jews with disabilities are unemployed – and they don’t have the same opportunities for education and even to being connected with their faith. It is not consistent with our beliefs as a community; it is not consistent with the Talmud.  Continue reading