National Yiddish Theatre–Folksbiene Honors Dr. Charlotte K. Frank & Sesame Workshop
The National Yiddish Theatre–Folkbiene honored the Sesame Workshop (the non-profit educational organization behind Sesame Street) and McGraw-Hill’s Dr. Charlotte K. Frank, one of the country’s leading authorities on education, at its annual cabaret dinner gala.
What do Andréa Burns, Bebe Neuwirth, Peter Yarrow, Sheldon Harnick, Sesame Street’s Bob McGrath & Grover, and McGraw-Hill’s Charlotte K. Frank have in common? Yiddish and a love of education! Appearing at the special event celebrating innovation in education was the Emmy and Tony Award-winning actress Bebe Neuwirth, the Broadway rising star Andréa Burns (currently in “The Ritz,” Belle in “Beauty and the Beast,” and the Broadway-bound hit musical “In the Heights”), Peter Yarrow (of Peter Paul & Mary), and the Pulitzer Prize-winning lyricist Sheldon Harnick (“Fiddler on the Roof”). Joining in the festivities was Sesame Street’s revered neighborhood fixture Bob McGrath and his friend, the lovable monster Grover, who (little-known fact) is a devoted Yiddishist. McGrath and Grover performed, as did co-headliners, in English and Yiddish. After a recent rehearsal with McGrath and Grover, Folksbiene’s artistic director Zalmen Mlotek, the world-recognized Yiddish music expert and conductor, was beside himself. “Bob McGrath is one of the sweetest people I’ve ever met. He happened to know Rozhinkes mit Mandlen from when he was touring worldwide with Mitch Miller. He had a whole arrangement of it. It was part of his ‘act’ at one time. And who knew Grover is a closet Yiddishist! He loves Yiddish and even told me he remembers hearing it in the neighborhood when he was a boy monster.! We’re tickled blue!” Mlotek continued: “I salute and thank Sesame Workshop’s C.E.O. Gary E. Knell for helping us so graciously, and Charlotte K. Frank, McGraw-Hill Education’s Senior V.P. for all that she does in so many arenas, but especially education. We couldn’t be more proud to honor such fine people.”
Dan Victor, receiving the award on behalf of Sesame Street quoted its founder Joan Ganz Cooney: “The most important message of Sesame Street isn’t teaching the alphabet or how to count. It’s about warmth, compassion and human understanding.” We are introducing a new production of Shalom Sesame striving to help Israeli and Arab children and families find their commonalities and celebrate their diversity.
The gala benefited the Drama Desk Award winning National Yiddish Theatre—Folksbiene, America’s sole-surviving professional Yiddish theatre. The venerable company, which was founded in 1915 on the Lower East Side, is in the midst of an unprecedented and eyepopping period of expansion. Folksbiene has added new supporters (a national membership drive launched last year), increased attendance, doubled its outreach audience, produced outside of New York for the first time (its Drama Desk-nominated revival of “On Second Avenue” opened in Los Angeles in February), and added simultaneous Russian supertitles to all its performances (English supertitles were introduced in 2003). Folksbiene champions a two-fold mission: to be the custodian of a rich cultural legacy, while developing new works to add to this legacy. Demonstrating its broadening appeal, in each of the past two seasons Folksbiene received Best Musical Revival Drama Desk nominations—for “On Second Avenue” two seasons ago, and last season’s dark horse hit, the Yiddish version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Pirates of Penzance.” #