Today marked one of my best Christmases in many years. Why? Because it was all about the Jews!
Good thing we got our tickets to “The Golden Bride” of the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene many weeks ago. Our noon performance of this Yiddish operetta was completely sold out. The New York Times raved about it, and the Jews all headed downtown.
First, we went for our ‘Instant Yiddish’ lesson. “If you’re not fluent after this 15-minute class, you’ll get your money back.” A little Jewish humor, since, of course, the lesson was free. And my friend Helen is already fluent.
During our mini class, the teacher pantomimed his way through the history of Yiddish theater in New York. From 1880 to the 1949s, Yiddish theater helped immigrants adjust to life in The Golden Medina–the golden land of America–and deal with homesickness and provide some much needed escape from daily hardships. Broadway as we know it grew out of the musicals of and the immigrants producing shows for the 2nd Avenue theaters.
“The Golden Bride” was first performed in 1923, one of 18 Yiddish shows live in New York at the time. It toured the country and was continually revived in New York until its last production in 1948. Until now.
I can see why the show was so enormously popular. It’s full of family drama, silly and entangled romances, Shakespearean plot mix-ups, and wonderfully catchy songs. We were all singing along with the ovation. Most touching was the reuniting of a divided family, which no doubt the audience could relate to. And most familiar was the matchmaking scene, which maybe Sheldon Harnick saw before writing his song for “Fiddler.”
Al loved the appropriation of Over There and other patriotic music with plot-driven lyrics in Yiddish. The American Dream is all over this piece from the Old Country on Act 1 and the realization of that dream in the U.S. In Act 2.
Curiously, the two young-lover leads are not Actor’s Equity, the only in the cast, but they had powerful operatic voices. We laughed that the tenor looked like a Sean O’Malley, really named Cameron Johnson. Not terribly Yiddishkeit.
The comedy was great fun and clearly sparked the tropes we see in the Golden Age of musicals, with the serious romantic leads and the comedic secondary couple.
I really felt like an audience member from the 1920s, reveling in a sense of belonging, nostalgia for the Old Country, and pleasure and pride in the new. Actually quite healing during an often-alienating Christmasmaniacalism season and painful world conditions.
How did we cap this experience? With Chinese food, of course!