Years ago I wrote a story for The Forward about the many off-Broadway shows with the word "jew" in their titles (My Mother's Italian, My Father's Jewish & I'm in Therapy, 25 Questions for a Jewish Mother, A Jew Grows in Brooklyn and Jewtopia). The feature was inspired by my mother, who enjoys all things Jewish. My mother calls whenever she hears about anything with a Jewish premise or a Jewish character or even a Jewish actor. She is the person who supports Natalie Portman's career even though she can't name three movies Portman has appeared in.
Each time she calls about a show she has read about in a Jewish paper, she begins with: "Have you heard of this show?" My answer is often: "Yes, but I was hoping to avoid you hearing about it." You see, generally there are a lot of them, most of which I wouldn't see on my own. For example, in the fall of 2009, I had heard The Retributionists was unwatchable, but it was about Jewish youths plotting to kill Nazis in 1946, so, my mother said: "How bad could it be?" Seriously.
This year there seem to not have been as many shows that fit her bill. And most of what there has been I can't really recommend. (While many people actually think the acclaimed play Jerusalem is about the Jewish homeland, that is incorrect. It is not a companion piece to David Hare's Via Dolorosa; its name comes from a William Blake poem. This is fine with me -- I have more egalitarian tastes. However, in honor of the fast-approaching Mother's Day, I wanted to write a post for all the mothers like my mother.
The issue is, when I sat down to write this post, I had trouble thinking of an on-topic show I could praise. JewQueen, was an enjoyable if overly silly, take on the story of Purim. But it is a) closed, b) was never going to be a mainstream show and c) may as well have been a posted a "maximum audience age" sign. There are two shticky shows -- Danny and Sylvia: The Danny Kaye Musical and One Night with Fanny Brice -- that depict popular Jewish performers and win over many older audiences members. (Both ironically play at St. Luke's Theatre.)
I just thought I needed more before I could compose this post. I was going to wait to write it until I could expand in detail about the Roundabout Theater Company's current Jewish-themed musical (which has not officially opened yet) or maybe even until Judy Gold returned to the New York stage with It's Jewdy's Show ... My Life As A Sitcom (which will happen in a couple of months). I couldn't delay though. I couldn't because the one production my mother wants to make sure everyone sees is closing this coming weekend. It is La Cage aux Folles. While the musical's title doesn't scream Jewish and indeed there are not Jewish characters, it was written by and currently stars one of my mother's favorite Jewish performers, Harvey Fierstein. La Cage is the show that my mother wanted to strongly recommend. With that in mind, I turn the column over to her:
There are times that the taste of the theater going public amazes me. This is one of those times. I cannot believe that La Cage Aux Folles with Harvey Fierstein is closing on May 1 because of low ticket sales. Maybe the problem is that people remember the last revival and no one wants to pay to see that again. This one is entirely different. It puts the heart back into a musical that has wonderful songs, a joyous spirit and touching moments.
Couple this wonderful musical with a star like Harvey Fierstein (who wrote the book back in 1982) in the role of Zaza and it is pure entertainment. I must admit that I am a huge Harvey Fierstein fan. He somehow manages to put New York Jewish shtick into every role. It can be in his intonation or his facial expression. Here, in what may seem like a decidedly non-Jewish role, he makes you think that ZaZa might be a French Jew in a mixed marriage. The audience loves him. What Jew -- what intelligent person of any faith -- would not want to go see Harvey Fierstein? If there is any way that you can get a ticket for La Cage Aux Folles in the last days of its present run, do it. You will have a wonderful time.
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