Theater review by Helen Shaw
It takes a while for Moishe Rosenfeld and Zalmen Mlotek’s Yiddish musical-historical panorama Amerike—The Golden Land to get rolling. This bittersweet revue tracks Jewish-American immigration in sections, from “Arrival” in 1897 to “Rebirth” after World War II, and the first two-thirds can feel static, despite (or perhaps because of) its rapid progress through major events: 5 minutes for the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, 10 for the Great Depression. But by the end, when the cast makes a plea for immigration of all kinds, the emotion has grown palpably contemporary.
Short scenes set up each era, but they’re a thin pretense: We’re here for deep cuts from the Yiddish songbook, and they don’t disappoint. In a section about World War I, Glenn Seven Allen and David Perlman sing Isadore Lillian’s “A Grus fun di Trenches” (“A Greeting from the Trenches”); in a tribute to Yiddish radio, we are treated to a crooning Manischewitz commercial. Bryna Wasserman deftly directs the large, talented ensemble, but the best moments are solos, such as Daniel Kahn’s explosive rendition of “Roumania, Roumania,” which blasts the walls down. Some version of Amerike has been in the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s repertoire since 1984, and when you trot out a sentimental favorite, there is always a risk of mustiness. But no nostalgic cobweb can long survive the brave sound of klezmer, played with a full heart and as loud as the clarinet can blow.
Museum of Jewish Heritage (). By Moishe Rosenfeld and Zalmen Mlotek. Music and lyrics by various artists. Directed by Bryna Wasserman. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. Through Aug 20.