The Golden Bride: Theater review by Raven Snook
Yes, this is your grandmother's operetta—or rather, your bubbe's. The National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene—the longest continuously producing troupe of its kind—celebrated its centennial last year by reconstructing this almost-lost treasure, blowing off the dust and burnishing it to a gleam. Now, under Bryna Wasserman and Motl Didner's excellent co-direction, the company brings back this unexpected smash as a summer treat to please audiences who love light theatrical nostalgia presented sincerely and sumptuously.
A huge hit on Second Avenue in 1923 (the same year, interestingly, that another Yiddish show, God of Vengeance, was making people plotz uptown), Di Goldene Kale probably felt old-fashioned right out of the gate. The story is a trifle and follows the courtship of two young, intertwined couples—the suddenly rich Goldele (Rachel Policar) and her childhood sweetheart Misha (Cameron Johnson), his sister Khanele (Rachel Zatcoff) and Goldele's American cousin Jerome (Glenn Seven Allen)—as they leave Russia for the U.S. to seek their fortunes. Oh, did I mention Goldele's newfound wealth has attracted so many suitors that she promises t0o marry the one who finds her long-lost mama?
All this schmaltz is just an excuse for wonderful comedic shtick (misunderstandings, mistaken identities and even an unexpected moment of drag) and lovely lilting songs by Joseph Rumshinsky and Louis Gilrod, performed spectacularly in Yiddish by a 20-member cast backed by a 14-piece orchestra (supertitles in English and Russian). Rumshinsky's melodies may owe much to Johann Strauss and his ilk, but he also slyly incorporates other styles, including Russian folksong, period American ditties (George M. Cohan's "Over There" is quoted) and even Jewish prayers. (To my ear, "Mayn Goldele" sounded like one of the many tunes for “Adon Olam.”) To hear these numbers given the full-blown treatment they deserve is thrilling, with the leads delivering uniformly powerful and emotionally rich vocals. In fact, they're all so strong, it seems a shanda to pick favorites. (Let's just say the handsome and booming-voiced Johnson could make all the girls on JDate swoon.)
As a pair of wannabe actors, Rachel Zatcoff and Glenn Seven Allen earn the bulk of the laughs. But it's Rachel Policar as the title character who wins our hearts. She is the ultimate immigrant-made-good fantasy: a former penniless shtetl dweller now residing in a New York City mansion, yet still a simple girl who finds happiness with her poor but deserving beau. A century ago, Russian-Jewish transplants must have found it all awfully aspirational. Today, with immigration issues ever more politicized, it's no wonder audiences are eating up this effervescent entertainment like Eastern European comfort food.—Raven Snook
Museum of Jewish Heritage’s Edmond J. Safra Hall (Off Broadway). Music by Joseph Rumshinsky. Lyrics by Louis Gilrod. Book by Frieda Freiman. Directed by Bryna Wasserman and Motl Didner. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs. One intermission.