Houdini:Art and Magic at the Jewish Museum and a New Musical Drama about Raoul Wallenberg by NYCGuy

Events, Theater, Uncategorized, exhibit

Friday I went to the Jewish Museum to check out the just opened Houdini exhibit, Houdini:Art and Magic. It has all the same kind of oddities, paraphernalia & interesting factoids that made the museum’s earlier Sarah Bernhardt such a smash. Houdini contains video clips, including silent films made by the Budapest-born magician, who like Bernhardt was an early star of the medium.

There’s even a photo of the two together.

A scene from eponymous 1953 movie features a young Tony Curtis in what ironically was the breakout film that launched his career.

The Bronx born actor, the child of Hungarian Jewish immigrants, apparently spoke only Magyar until he was 5 or 6. His 2nd wife, whom he met while filming Taras Bulba, was the German actress Christine Kaufmann, mirroring Houdini’s marriage to German American Bess.

Both the former Erik Weisz & the former Bernard Schwartz who played him escaped poverty. Ironically, the exhibit’s opening was bracketed by Curtis’  death on September 29 and the 74th anniversary of Houdini’s death on Halloween.

Like the Sarah Bernhardt show, this one displays the impresario’s magical hold on our imagination. Late in life, it appears the actor experienced a renewed interest in his Hungarian Jewish roots, establishing a foundation in his father’s name that has among other things, helped restore Europe’s largest synagogue, on Dohany Street in Budapest. (The foundation is based in Queens where Houdini’s buried.) Which leads me to the next unsolicited endorsement, a new musical drama I was invited to see the following evening…..

I would never have pictured a musical being made based on the experience of Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who managed to outwit the Nazis & safeguard an estimated 100,000 Jews in Budapest.

This is no Springtime for Hitler. Saturday evening’s world premier is part of a relaunch of the White Plains Performing Arts Center as a venue for new works. Can a theater in a downtown mall challenge New Haven’s role as try-out stage for Broadway? Maybe. It’s an hour closer to Grand Central. The theater is very comfortable but non-descript.

The new artistic director Annette Jolles has two Emmys, six nominations, experience directing,choreographing & producing at major venues in Manhattan & London & a musical theater teaching gig at Yale. Oddly, the 1st thing that made me think this was serious was the set, which frames the stage, with “stones.” When the curtains open there’s a vista of the Hungarian capital. Having seen the real thing from the station platform at 6:00AM on a August morning, while traveling from Prague to Belgrade, it felt like I was again in Budapest.

With artful props, the space becomes various exteriors & interiors with views of the city & its river. But it takes more than architectural tricks & magic of lighting. It seems the librettists, Laurence Holtzman & Felicia Needleman spent several years researching everything they could get a hold of re the Wallenberg story & those rescued, including a scene from drownings in the Danube that brought to mind those of Operation Condor. This pair has done musical theater & cabaret, the latter of which can be very personal & very grand. Add a symphony orchestra & stir. It’s happened at Lincoln Center. Still, a musical about the Holocaust & a hero whose fate was Stalin’s gulag, seems incongruous. Yet, here’s the opening number,: http://bit.ly/cFFJ99 .

The composer, Benjamin Rosenbluth, trained with such masters as Pulitzer Prize winners Milton Babbitt & John Corigliano. Is there an Ernő Rubik to solve the puzzle of bringing this sung story of real life New York sister city Budapest 30 minutes south to a Broadway stage?

Meanwhile, you have through November 21 to escape to this unexpected gem in Westchester.

This post is by guest author NYCGuy

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