The National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene (now in its historic 97th consecutive season), celebrates the enduring influence of Yiddish on American popular culture at its annual Cabaret Dinner on Tuesday November 22, at the Bohemian National Hall, 321 East 73rd Street.
The evening’s richly conceived concert stars Judy Blazer, Judy Kaye, Stuart Zagnit and Elmore James, with a guest appearance by the Hollywood and television star Ron Rifkin. The evening, a benefit for the theatre, also honors two remarkable New Yorkers – the five-time Tony Award winning producer and theatre owner Stewart F. Lane, and the distinguished haberdasher to the stars, Martin Greenfield.
“Both of our honorees are vigorous showmen in their own right,” claims Bryna Wasserman, Folksbiene’s newly appointed executive director. “They are passionate about the continued vitality of Jewish culture and they both express this passion with flair.” Greenfield, a Holocaust survivor, is the proprietor of Martin Greenfield Clothiers, makers of custom-tailored suits favored by sports figures, actors, mayors and presidents. He recently shared an Emmy nomination with costume designer John Dunn for HBO’s acclaimed series Boardwalk Empire, for which Greenfield built and tailored 250 period suits. Lane is the author of a new book chronicling the impact of Jews on Broadway – and by extension on American popular entertainment.
In this new book, “Jews on Broadway” (McFarland, 2011), Lane, a Great Neck native, explores the many ways in which Yiddish culture reflected and even defined the social and cultural forces brewing in America at the dawn of the 20th century. With its taste for earthy humor, domesticity, home-grown morality, sentimentality, and stories of individual triumph over institutions, the Yiddish theatre set the stage for several American art forms — from vaudeville to the variety shows and sit-coms of television’s Golden Age — even if Jews themselves were not overtly embraced or celebrated in popular culture.
Folksbiene’s Cabaret Dinner concert being devised by Artistic Director Zalmen Mlotek, brings to life these themes of the enduring (and underappreciated) influence of Yiddish culture on American popular culture. Performing on stage with Mlotek and the evening’s remarkable ensemble of singers and actors, is the Grammy Award-winning klezmer superstar Frank London.
Kaye starred on Broadway in “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Ragtime,” and “Mamma Mia!” Blazer starred on Broadway in “45 Seconds from Broadway,” “Titanic” (among others) and this year in “The Thomashefskys” with Michael Tilson Thomas the NY Philharmonic. Zagnit’s diverse resume spans musicals on Broadway (“The Wild Party,” “People in the Picture”), Off-Broadway (“Little Shop of Horrors,” “All in the Timing”) to noteworthy Yiddish and Yiddish-themed productions such as “Those Were the Days,” “The Golden Land,” “Picon Pie,” and “Kuni-Leml.” A veteran of five Broadway productions and numerous opera stages around the world, the African-American Elmore James is emerging as one of the world’s most exciting interpreters of Yiddish songs.
“Many of our favorite actors and performers today are the natural heirs of the Yiddish theatre,” says Mlotek. “Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Sarah Silverman, Nathan Lane (though not Jewish), Billy Crystal, Harvey Fierstein – they all carry on the traditions, whether they know it or not, and they all would have been welcome on 2nd Avenue 100 years ago, had they been around.”
The Drama Desk Award-winning National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene has been around for four years shy of a century. Founded in 1915, the longest continuously producing Yiddish theatre company in the world presents plays, concerts and literary events in English and Yiddish, with English and Russian supertitles accompanying all performances.
Under Wasserman, the 97-year-old company will continue to modernize, build bridges with other cultural groups, and broaden the audience beyond the Yiddish cultural community.
In addition to the Cabaret Dinner concert, Folksbiene’s two fall/winter shows – the innovative inter-racial concert “Soul to Soul” (which returns in January) and the groundbreaking klezmer musical “Shlemiel the First” which plays from December 13 to 31 at NYU’s Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts – exemplify Folksbiene’s commitment to adding to the great legacy of the Yiddish theatre, not just preserving it and keeping old traditions alive.
Single tickets for the Cabaret Dinner are $360. For table packages or for more information, call The National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene at 212/213-2120, or go to www.nationalyiddishtheatre.org to place your order online.