Theater review by Raven Snook. Baruch Performing Arts Center (see Off Broadway). Music by Dov Seltzer. Book and lyrics by Itzik Manger, Shmuel Bunim, Haim Hefer and Seltzer. Dir. Motl Didner. With ensemble cast. 1hr 30mins. No intermission.
The Jewish holiday of Purim passed in February, but you can still celebrate at the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre’s carnival-themed musical, which relates the biblical story of Esther through the words of celebrated 20th-century Yiddish poet Itzik Manger. Originally produced on Broadway in the late ’60s, this revival integrates elements of circus, puppetry and commedia dell’arte—thanks to Circus Amok and Great Small Works vet Jenny Romaine, who designed the sets and costumes, and lends the company some much-needed cool cred.
Like most Folksbiene fare, the show is performed in the not-quite-dead-but-gravely-ill language of Yiddish (thankfully for English speakers, the supertitles are in verse, not a literal translation). However, this Purim Spiel—which giddily recounts how the nubile Queen Esther (Stacey Harris) saved the Jews from extinction with proletarian revolution undertones—boasts a freshness and vitality the almost-100-year-old troupe often lacks.
The nine-member cast—led by Tony nominee Stephen Mo Hanan as the fakakta king—sing and shtick their tuchuses off in multiple roles. Standouts include Andrew Keltz as Esther’s jilted beau and tailor Fastrigosse (a character invented by Manger as a bit of an inside joke since the author was known as “a master tailor of the written word”) and the lovely Rebecca Keren as executed Queen Vashti. But the real star may be the rousing klezmer band: Its music is so gleeful it shakes any of the genre’s mothballs right off.—Raven Snook