Culture & Conversation

Second Avenue, first rate

A scene from On Second Avenue

A scene from On Second Avenue

Wow, what a heart tugging, crowd pleasing show this is! The Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre at the Segal Centre has re-staged its 1998 hit, On Second Avenue, in a most spectacular way. A lot of talented youth have been discovered to supplement the veteran performers, many of whom appeared in this play those fourteen years ago.

The New York authors, Montreal-born Moshe Rosenfeld and Zalmen Mlotek, have been collaborating for 40 years. Their first full musical, The Golden Land, preceded  this play which, followed by Broadway hit Those Were The Days, form a sort of trilogy about the Jewish immigrant experience in the 20s and 30s.

Some 35 performers sing, dance and act in exquisite detail in myriad costumes amidst clever sets and staging. Hats off to Jim White’s choreography and John Gilbert’s musical direction in particular. (Mr. Gilbert also does double duty by dancing in a tango sequence.)

Edit Kuper returns to the stage in triumph after a ten year hiatus of administrative work as the Doyenne, a sort of narrator that takes us from the origins of a Yiddish theatre in 1876 Rumania, inspired by the poems of Abraham Goldfaden. During the ensuing 14 scenes and 33 songs, we see that movement really flourish on the aforementioned Avenue, which once held 20 Yiddish theatres.

In a way, the whole is a superior variety show as opposed to real theatah…not that there’s anything wrong with that. It worked for Ed Sullivan, who was decidedly less emotional.

Some beautiful or boisterous songs were interspersed with corny but funny vaudeville routines. Aron Gonshor’s replication of immortal comedian Manashe Skulnick`s shtick “What Happened to Me, It Shouldn’t Happen to a Dog” brought the house down. Sam Stein’s bitter Cantor having to audition before a unappreciative board despite his glorious career was another highlight.

Bryna Wasserman , now the executive director of the 100 year old Folksbiene  Theater of New York after 15 years as artistic director of the Segal (when it was the Saidye) came home to co-direct this show with Audrey Finkelstein. Bryna had initiated the first International Yiddish Theatre Festival here three years ago. She was ecstatic that last week the New York Times carried a major article announcing that the Folksbiene will host an international Jewish Arts Festival in 2015.

She quotes, in her Directors Notes, the pleas of past Yiddishkeit actors, singers and writers:

How my heart begs, don’t forget me

In joy in sadness , don’t forget me

For I am always yours, remember it well

Wherever you are,, don’t forget me.


On Second Avenue continues, with easy to read English and French supertitles, until July 1.

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