The Yiddish are Coming...The Yiddish are Coming! The Chosen Musical

[The following review appeared online in Variety the week of June 18th.]

If Leo Rosten were alive today, he would enjoy Joel Paley's light-hearted homage to his own mother (who organized theatrical productions for her temple), based on the show's earnest outreach efforts on behalf of Yiddish, that ever-elastic and expressive tongue. As a successful novelist, screenwriter, and aphorist, though, Rosten would have some reservations about the storyline.

Photo of the ensemble
The ensemble
Photo: Larry Laszlo
Somewhere on the East Coast, the theatre mavens are gearing up for the annual Golden Tchotchke Awards, where Jewish congregations from near and far compete for the coveted award for outstanding production. Year after year, the title goes to the arrogant, good-looking, and talented Mitzi Katz (Dana Baráthy) and her Temple Ben Affleck meshpocheh, because she's got the bucks and the chutzpah to get the job done.

Temple Ben Shtiller's rabbi (Craig Sculli) is desperate and is willing to spend $10,000 from selling a Torah and raiding the building fund to bring in a Broadway professional to whip his troops into shape and win the prize. He's so desperate in fact that he's willing to hire a goy named Christian von Trapp (David Ruffin) to direct. Oy, vey iz mir!

Photo of Craig Sculli, David Ruffin, and Adam Shapiro
(L to R) Craig Sculli,
David Ruffin, and Adam Shapiro
Photo: Larry Laszlo
After Christian's agent (Adam Shapiro) provides the Equity-evading pseudonym, Daniel Tannenbaum, for the run, you can probably guess the Freudian slips that give away our undercover Christian: crossing himself, thanking Jesus, and misinterpreting every Yiddish phrase thrown his way. Thankfully, the flashy keyboardist, Carl Hahn, is there to translate for him and the goyim in the audience.

Photo of Dana Barathy and Deborah Radloff
Dana Baráthy and Deborah Radloff
Photo: Larry Laszlo
Dana Baráthy's dazzling song and dance number, "Mitzi Katz," sets the stage for the competitive showdown and Deborah Radloff's boa-wrapped burlesque send-up, "Borscht Belt Betty" is a rocker. Craig Sculli's ambitious rabbi, Adam Shapiro's conniving agent, and David Ruffin's mercenary director pull out all their chops to squeeze what they can from paper-thin characters. The show stopper is "Beautiful Bubbe," a Busby Berkeley-inspired number topped off with headdresses adorned with Matzo boxes, Mah Jong pieces, hard candy, and Loehmann's bags. Howard Crabtree, get a load of this!

The ensemble work their tushies off selling A.C. Ciulla's snappy choreography set to Marvin Laird's jazzy score and Paley's sometimes clever, sometimes obvious lyrics, including "Yinglish 101," "It's Tough to get a Minyan," "Eat a Little Something," and "Farblondget, Farplotzed."

Photo of Deborah Radloff, Craig Sculli, and Dana Barathy
Deborah Radloff, Craig Sculli,
and Dana Baráthy
Photo: Larry Laszlo
The tradition of producing musicals to raise money and entertain congregations is nearly as universal as religion itself, and while certain elements of the staging may meet professional standards, the insular nature of the genre usually limits mass appeal; so while "The Yiddish Are Coming…" may be the best synagogue show ever produced, its narrow premise and uneven writing prevents it from being anything more than that.

Bob Bows


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