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A CurtainUp Review
KLEYNKUNST! Warsaw's brave and brilliant Yiddish Cabaret is the 93-year old National Yiddish Theater – Folksbiene's tribute to those heady times. Written, researched and originally produced by Rebecca Joy Fletcher, it is filled with songs, sketches and satire that reflect and celebrate that vibrant art.
Fletcher co-stars with Stephan Mo Hanan, who returns to the Folksbiene after playing the Groyse-General in last season's Di Yam Gazlonim. They are directed by Broadway veteran Michael Montel, who shows an infinite respect for the art he is re-creating, and accompanied by Bob Goldstein on the piano (he's also the very capable musical director).
Fletcher and Hanan perform fourteen songs and sketches in Yiddish and English (the English lyrics are by Jeremy Lawrence). Non-Yiddish speakers are helped along the way by English and Russian supertitles throughout. These songs and sketches were originally performed in the famed Ararat Club, the Warsaw and Cracow ghettoes, and throughout Yiddish-speaking Europe.
The numbers include a Yiddish version of Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht's "Mack the Knife"; a melodrama about an unhappy maid who wears red nail polish so no one will see the horseradish stains on her fingernails; a moving hymn to Krokhamalne Street; and (yes!) a Jewish drinking song, "Whiskey!"
Many of the songs have Hassidic-inflected melodies, but the delightful "Kum, Leybke. Tansen!" (Come, Leybke — dance!) reflects the tango and Charleston crazes that were sweeping the dance world at that time.
Before 1939, the Jews of Warsaw were still able to laugh at anti-Semitism. "Oy, Madagaskar!" makes fun of the Polish government and suggests that Jews should escape European persecution by immigrating to Africa, where they can lie in the sun and live among the natives.
"The Last Jew in Poland," based on Shimon Dzigan's descriptions in his memoirs (original sketch 1938), is a hilarious send-up of what would happen if Poland did actually get rid of all its Jews. According to this sketch, the economy would go to pot, students would riot because there would be no Jews to beat up, there would be no more cabarets or good music, and even the prostitutes would not be as good looking. A sorry state!
After the Nazi invasion, cabaret did not cease; it just became more serious. "Moments of Believing" and "The Song of our Time," are powerful reminders of the spirit that helped Jews survive Nazi persecution.
Brian Nason's set and Gail Cooper Hecht's lighting are enormously effective at reproducing the cabaret atmosphere. They serve as a wonderful frame for Fletcher and Hanan's radiant performance.
KLEYNKUNST! is all about the power art has for enabling people to celebrate life and endure its hardships. It is about the human capacity for bravery, appreciation of beauty and gift of healing. And it is brilliant. Mazel Tov!
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
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