I don’t normally believe in miracles, but I believe I’ve seen two in the flesh. Yiddish, a language that’s regularly envisioned swooning at death’s door, is having a miraculous revival, thanks to Miracle Mench (Zalmen) Mlotek, the Artistic Director of the National Jewish Theater/Folksbiene and a guiding light of contemporary Yiddish culture. Mlotek’s first miracle was his 2015 revival of Joseph Rumshinsky’s long-lost super-melodic 1923 Yiddish operetta The Golden Bride, which was a sellout thanks to rave reviews in The New Yorker and The New York Times. It also won two Drama Desk nominations for both Outstanding Revival of a Musical and Outstanding Direction of a Musical! When was the last time an All-Yiddish production got tributes like that from Yankee organizations? My memory doesn’t go back that far.
Now, Mlotek is taking another chance on love and is accompanying The Golden Bride 2016, a re-revival, to her wedding canopy until August 28, 2016. Where’s the wedding? At the same place, The Museum of Jewish Heritage’s Edmund J. Safra Hall. Is it worth the shlepp to Battery Park? Watch the scenes from the production in the above video, complete with English and Russian subtitles, and you tell me.
The plot is pure Yiddish immigrant soap opera. Goldele, a beautiful but poor orphan, inherits a fortune from her father whom she believed was dead, but who unbeknownst to her had struck it rich in America. She leaves Russia for the New World weighed down by proposals from three shtetl gold-diggers plus one from Misha, the medical student who’s loved her since childhood and vice versa. Like any mythic princess, she gives her suitors an impossible task to perform. She will marry the one who reunites her with the mother who vanished when she was an infant. Do I have to tell you what happens?
Do you have to understand Yiddish to enjoy The Golden Bride? Let me answer that question with a question. Do you have to speak Italian to kvell from La Traviata or Madame Butterfly? My companion knew very little Yiddish beyond words like kvetch, chutzpah, kibitz, klutz and shmuck, words that are familiar to even rednecks that watch late night talk shows, and she said that after the first few minutes she only glanced at the supertitle translations, because the actor’ expressions, body language and the ecstasy of their singing told her exactly how they felt and what was going on.
Frieda Freiman’s charming libretto perfectly depicts the immigrants’ desire to not seem like greenhorns. When someone asks where Goldele is. he’s told, “She’s playing tennis with her friends.” How’s that for a quick adjustment! Songs I found particularly noteworthy included, “A Greeting from the New Russia” which reminded me about how much faith my family had in the Bolsheviks because Leon Trotsky, a Jew born Lev Davidovich Bronstein, had climbed to the highest rungs of government as a People’s Commissar. I was also amused by the tune called “We’re All Girls,” a Yiddish rip-off of Gilbert and Sullivan Mikado’s “Three Little Girls in School,” minus the paper parasols.
Even if you saw the 2015 production, seeing it again couldn’t hurt. The 2016 Bride is more entrancing, more packed with joy and verve than last year’s. The Jewbilant baton of Zalman Mlotek leads an exuberant 14-piece orchestra through lilting tunes that have you bouncing in your seat. Equally enthralling are the glorious, operatically trained voices of the lovers, Rachel Policar as Goldele and Cameron Johnson as Misha, who now speak and sing Yiddish as if they had been raised by a non-English-speaking Bubby at Essex and Delancey Streets. And Cameron Johnson actually danced what my mother called The Kozatchke perfectly, thrusting out his toes and leaping back on his heels! Zamechatel’nyy, Comrades!
Adorable in comic roles were Rachel Zatcoff from Phantom of the Opera as would-be actress Khanele and Glenn Seven Allen’s Jerome, unbelievably loose as her wannabe Yankee vaudevillian boyfriend. Adam B. Shapiro stole whatever scene he was on as Kalman, the matchmaking male yenta, irresistibly resplendent in a red-and-white checkered Italian restaurant tablecloth three-piece suit. As for any additions to the cast, you’ll be hard pressed to tell the old hands from the newbies.
Hip! Hip! Hurrah! for the entire energetic and talented cast, to Izzy Fields’ handsome costumes, to John Dinning’s shtetl-to-mansion sets and to Merete Muenter for her dazzling choreography. And last but hardly least, heartfelt gratitude to co-directors Bryna Wasserman (NYTF Executor Director) and Motl Didner (BYTF Associate Artistic Director} for transforming an old-fashioned operetta into a modern gem.
You don’t have to be Jewish to love The Golden Bride. You just have to enjoy melody and charm.
Until August 28th, 2016
Museum of Jewish Heritage
26 Battery Place, NY 10280
For tickets: Call 866-811-4111
Photos: Justin Scholar