Browsing the archives for the Theater category.

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,: .

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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The Bacchae at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park

Events, Lily's notes, Theater

Euripides’ complex and disturbing ancient play, The Bacchae,  about disrupting the so-called “natural” order in society, personal delusion vs reality,  and the consequences is produced movingly by the Public Theatre in Central Park as the second play for this season of  “Shakespeare in the Park”.

The score is by Philip Glass and  the play is given its bone-chilling, gripping life by a spectacular women’s chorus.  The score and chorus would be reason enough to see the play, and there is a very fine cast and production, as well. Try not to miss this production.

As a reminder if you haven’t read your classics in a while, the Bacchae are women who have entered a state of ecstasy and delusion by following the charismatic, seductive, handsome, pitiless, vengeful, god Dionysus. They destroy society by leaving their so-called natural subservient place in society and going up into the mountains for the “worship” of Dionysus: that is Bacchanalia which are orgies with hideous and murderous details. This is quite something for a summer play in the park.    

Do not miss the excellent notes and explanations in the Playbill about the  Bacchae, Euripides and His Times, and the Royal House of  Thebes, which will make you very appreciative that you are not a relative of the Royal House of  Thebes expected at up-coming  holiday dinners.

We left the park discussing the production and the complex issues raised by the play itself. There is plenty for all points of  view to discuss. That is the mark of a terrific production.

We saw this last night, in the open air of the Delacorte Theater, and as the actors invoked Dionysus, the god of Thunder, we were surrounded by nature’s spectacular lightning and  an approaching intense summer thunder storm.  The audience remained gripped by the play and left the park quickly due to the impending weather. Shortly after the end of the play, this storm hit Manhattan with terrific force, even toppling mature trees  into the streets as on West 88th St,  throwing branches onto the streets, sidewalks and cars,  sent cafe chairs sliding up Columbus Avenue,  and wrecked awnings around the Upper West Side.     

How to get your FREE TICKETS: arrive early in the day and wait on line (BTW: New Yorkers wait “on line”, it is a localism, the rest of you wait “in line”).  Seniors  65 and above have their own line, and there is now a Virtual Line. See the Public’s website for full details.

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Golem Stories and Cities of Light

Events, Lily's notes, Literary event, Theater

I just can’t get enough of that Golem. The many forms, retellings and spin-off s are always fascinating. 

In the best known version of  legend, The Maharal of Prague, Rabbi Judah Loew, created a living man out of clay with the intention that this creature would protect the Jews of Prague from anti-Semitic attacks.

Things get quite out of hand with this golem just going much too far, and The Maharal has to find a way to kill this creature he created. This story is very moving and works on all  levels, both the allegorical and literal.  Many plays and stories have been based on the Golem, or are a re-telling of the story. Frankenstein’s Monster and  Supermanand other super-heroes owe a great deal of their lineage to The Golem.

The idea of a golem has an extremely long history in Jewish culture:  it  is a living,  human-like creature but lacks a soul, it is always made of clay by a  holy man and implies a good deal of hubris in imitating the divine creation. It always gets out of hand. In some versions, the creator of the golem must write on the forehead of the golemor written place notes inside of its mouth to get it under control or to even kill the  wild,  out of control Golem! 

 Golem Stories is a staged retelling of the golem story by on  May 27, 2009 at the Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th St, at 7pm, followed by a discussion of Jewish legends and midrash. This evening is free but you must register in advance.

While on the CJH site check out their cabaret night called Cities of Light scheduled for June 10 at 6:30pm.

Both of these evening are part of the  Untitled Theater Company’s  Festival of Jewish Theater and Ideas May 20 through June 14. They will have over 100 performances at many venues throughout the city.

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Gimpel Tam (Gimpel the Fool) Folksbiene National Theatre

Theater, Uncategorized

Gimpel Tam (Gimpel the Fool) by Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Isaac Bashevis Singer is being performed by the Folksbiene Theatre through December 28, 2008 and you would be quite smart not to miss it. This is a new production written and directed by Moshe Yassur.

Do not pass up a chance to see the work of the very beloved writer I.B.Singer, which is produced so well, and in his native language, and performed on the Upper West Side where he lived and fed the pigeons on Broadway for so many years. Take along a few friends…talk over tea on Broadway afterwards. Perhaps you will attract a few of IB Singer´s more social dybbuks to join you.

Gimpel Tam asks us to question what is truth, what is reality, and to examine our ideas about good and evil.  This moving production is well staged, an entertaining and is a funny klezmer musical in Yiddish with English and Russian supertitles. Please go to the theatre´s site for many more details.

I saw this with five friends, including an UWS therapist who said that ¨Gimpel received love, but perhaps not enough from his mother, and that we see the story as through his eyes, that is, as if  everyone in town was against him¨ …oh, oh, oh…and just when you thought that you ¨got it¨.

I.B. Singer´s story of Gimpel Tam challenges the fool in all of us and in ordinary society.

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Van Gogh at MoMA, 535 West End Ave, and the “Unseen”

Art, Lily's notes, Literary event, Theater, Uncategorized

Update: The building crews have been at work on 535 West End Avenue (see previous postings) and there is now visible construction above street level.

Can’t help but wonder how will they sell these $14 Million  dollar apartments during this economic downturn and crisis?

Perhaps they will have to redo their plans and make more apartments that are smaller than 10 bedrooms with 7 baths…time will tell.


The new Van Gogh and the Colors of the Night exhibit now at the MoMA is a lesson in the beauty and skill of painting- like notes from one painter to all others. The show has a small number of works and is in small galleries, and although I saw it at a member’s preview, it was still crowded. But go, and have some patience, it is so worthwhile. 

Each  inch of canvas seems alive. The incredible emotion and color of his work are still, and always, so moving. It is there until January 5, 2009.

If you are not a MoMA member, order your tickets on line in advance and you will be able to see the show on the day of your visit, otherwise you need to get a special timed ticket when you enter the museum and you can not be sure to get in to this special exhibit.


Put this on your go see list:

on Sun, Oct 5, 3 pm

Performing Arts: Sin: A Staged Reading

Starring Academy-Award winning actor F. Murray Abraham
Based on a work by Nobel Laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer and adapted by Mark Altman from The Unseen. Directed by Robert Kalfin.

A hilarious and moving tale of devilish deeds by a master storyteller who has dwelt in both the old world and in modernity. Co-sponsored with Highbrow Entertainment.

Sun, Oct 5, 3 pm at the JCC of Manhattan

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Hair, 40 Years later in Central Park


We saw the new Public Theatre production of HAIR: THE AMERICAN TRIBAL LOVE-ROCK MUSICAL, Book and lyrics by GEROME RAGNI & JAMES RADO, Music by GALT MACDERMOT Directed by DIANE PAULUS in the Delacourt Theatre in Central Park this past week, while it is still in previews. It is scheduled to run through August 31.

The audiences was full of excitement and anticipation as we arrived on the beautiful, clear evening. The producer introduced the play with a brief history of the times, and a critic’s nasty (are we surprised) comments about the original production 40 years ago. He correctly drew parallels between those time and now, especially the the unpopular wars in Nam and Iraq, and the excruciating contrast of young people feeling empowered to oppose the war and speak out as compared to the general apathy today. It’s so very quiet when there is no draft and no daily photos of the war streaming into homes.

This show captures and reminded us of many of the the extreme contrasts and conflicts of the sixties, the pleasures and the pains, the freshness and the stupidities.

I am especially glad that they did not try to “update” or “adapt” the production for today. The book, music and spirit are still great.

The cast does a great job, full of beautiful energy, great voices, the band is great,  and at the end, many of the audience, us included, climbed on stage to dance with the cast for a reprise of Let the Sun Shine In.

Let’s do what we can to have “the sun shine in” for the November election.

Note for sixties grads: There is a special line for tickets for those older than 65. Check the Public Theatre website above for details. See, you managed to survive it all and now you do not have to sit on the grass for tickets if you don’t want to.





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South Pacific at the Beaumont Theatre in Lincoln Center


Loretta Ables SayreThis is such a thoroughly beautiful and enjoyable production of South Pacific and it deserves all of the wonderful reviews it has received. This is a great musical done superbly.

We saw this last night and we woke up still singing the wonderful score. This photo of Loretta Ables Sayre, terrific as Bloody Mary, was taken outside after the performance.

If you are not in New York, I would urge you to come to New York City just for this show. They have just extended the run “indefinitely”. See it very soon, before the production gets “old”. There are many reviews available on line. This is the link to the New York Times Review. Buy your tickets from the Beaumont Theatre box office in person or on line.

The Lincoln Center Plazas and the Julliard Building are all surrounded by “work sheds” during  the current extensive renovation, so access to the Beaumont Theatre  is through a makeshift, well lit path between construction.  

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“The Counterfeiter” and “Who Will Carry the Word?”

Film, Theater

This weekend we saw Who Will Carry the Word ? by Charlotte Delbo performed at the Red Fern Theatre by a very dedicated and moving cast and the Oscar winning The Counterfeiter.

Both pose the question of what is moral behavior under the most extreme immoral conditions of a concentration camp during the Shoah (Holocaust).

Our society is so based on the individual, we tend to want to focus this question on an individual’s behavior and choices but what emerges in both works is how the sum of the behaviors of individual actions adds up to something much more than what any one person does. In The Counterfeiter, we are in the male barracks of the Nazi concentration camp, Sachsenhausen,  in the unique prisoner blocks dedicated to conterfeiting currency. *More on this camp and the specific barrack blocks later.

The lead character, Solly,  a Jewish counterfeiter, goes by his moral code: never be a rat even if you can’t stand the other guy, do anything to keep alive and help others stay alive. Adolf, the communist prisoner has a different code: don’t cooperate with the Nazis and sabotage the counterfeiting work, come what may and perhaps martyrdom is an honorable outcome. This code could easily enrage the Nazis to kill them all. The other inmates depicted just try to stay alive. 

In the end, both of these  points of view are needed by the group for moral and physical survival.

In this film, the “criminal” Solly is much more likable and much less frightening than the ”high-minded” Adolf. The Nazis are portrayed correctly as collectively dispicable, the worst of the worst, of course. Thankfully, there is no trace of any romanticizing  of them or of their motives. No individual action “overcomes” their collective guilt.

This excellent film is very worth seeing and deserves its award.

Who Will Carry the Word, was written by  Charlotte Delbo who was a survivor. The Red Fern Theatre Company partnered with the Remember the Women Institute for this production.

By contrast, we are in the women’s barracks of Auschwitz. These women do not have any skill such as counterfeiting, that they might be able to play for survival’s sake. They are trapped and helpless. Much of the overt dialog of the play involves the question of how to retain the will to live and whether to retain the will to live. What emerges is the way these women try to support and comfort each other. Again, the collective actions surpass any one individual’s action.

This was the first event on the Shoah I have attended in which much of the audience was young, and many probably were not Jewish. After the play, a camp survivor, Bronia Brandman, told her moving, harrowing, determined story of survival as a young pre-teen (and of becoming a teenager) and took questions afterwards. She was asked “Do you believe in God?” and replied with her family’s history which includes descent from illustrous Rabbis, and her love and devotion to Judaism and Jewish culture.

This was tremendously moving. She is an excellent soft-spoken  speaker, and a woman able to convey her experiences and emotions. She is a docent at the Museum of Jewish Heritage a Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Battery Park, New York City, and she speaks regularly to school groups. Some in the audience said that this was their first experience meeting an actual survivor.

The film, play and museum are all very, very worthwhile.

If you haven’t ever spoken with a survivor, try to do so before one can not do so any longer- time is running out as they age.

More on this camp and these specific barrack blocks: I will add  the fascinating experiences of  Remember the Women colleagues who visited the precise barracks depicted in the film.  I should receive the comments in a day or two.

Here are Bronia Brandman, Rochelle Saidel, and  the Red Fern Theatre’s, Melanie Williams and Emilie Miller.

Bronia, Rochelle, Melanie and Emilie

Photo courtesy of the Red Fern Theatre Company

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“Who Will Carry the Word?”, The Red Fern Theatre Company

Events, Theater

Who Will Carry the WordWho Will Carry the Word?, by Charlotte Delbo, will be performed by  The Red Fern Theatre Company at Center Stage on West 21st St.

It is based on the true story of Charlotte Delbo, and depicts the lives of 23 women while they were prisoners in Auschwitz.  Their goal was to keep the strongest of them alive so that there could be a witness to what they had experienced, and so the survivor could tell the world.

The theatre  company has chosen to partner with Remember the Women Institute for this play, and the institiute will receive some of the proceeds. I am a member of the Board of the Remember the Women Institute.

At the Saturday evening, March 1 performance,  there will be a special talk-back session afterward that will include an Auschwitz  survivor, Bronia Brandman. Rochelle Saidel, the institute’s Director and I will also be there as well. A reception will follow the performance. Come.

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