Kleynkunst! Warsaw’s Brave and Brilliant Cabaret at the JCC
“Funny,” “sexy,” “ironic” are apt to describe “Kleynkunst! Warsaw’s Brave and Brilliant Yiddish Cabaret” inaugurating the 93rd consecutive season of the National Yiddish Theater – Folksbiene. The new show playing through December 30 at the JCC in Manhattan revives the irreverent, politically charged theater that flourished in Warsaw roughly between Polish Independence pre World II and the Nazi extermination.
Jews then made up roughly one-quarter of city’s population, and abundant Yiddish cabarets thrived drawing inspiration from famous clubs in Berlin.
Reviving this lost theater, Rebecca Joy Fletcher, who is also a cantor, researched and wrote the show, stars along with Broadway veteran, Stephen Mo Hanan, whom Folksbiene fans will remember from his rollicking performance in last season’s Yiddish version of “Pirates of Penzance.” The show is performed in English with supertitles for the Yiddish parts, and includes songs from the period as well as well as new arrangements by musical director, pianist Bob Goldstone.
Ms. Fletcher and Mr. Hanan do a fantastic job covering a wide range of timeless topics like money (or the lack of it), love, debauchery, Zionism, feminism, anti-Semitism, and urban blight in 14 songs and comedic sketches in a broad range of styles from Argentinean tango to cantorial chants and opera.
In one charming number, “Kum, Leybke Tantstn!”, from the 1920’s, Ms. Fletcher urges the hesitant Mr. Hanan to dance. And dance he does! In the poignant “Krokhmalne Gas” (“Street”) from the 1930’s, they both stoke memories while strolling familiar territory; in “Oy Madagaskar!”, from 1937, when Jews were beginning to feel less welcome in Warsaw, Mr. Hanan imagines an exotic deportation, and “The Last Jew in Poland,” from 1938, a sketch featuring both actors, is both ironic and satiric. Toward the end of the program, “Mues” (“Money”) and “Minutn fun Bitokhn” (“Moments of Believing,”) were sung in the Polish ghettos.
Director Michael Montel allows the stars to shine and Gayle Cooper-Hecht’s hats, shawls, and payess (“curls”) provide effective changes to costumes in tune with the songs.
The show is fitting tribute to a time long ago, be sure to see it before, too, becomes history. (JCC, 334 Amsterdam, 76th St. 2i2-279-4200)