Holiday preview calendar
MON | DEC 2
HA HA Hanukkah
If you like to laugh and hear happy Chanukah songs, then this is the show for you. It will be a special night of funny people, including Stephanie Blum, Jimmy Brogan and Mark Schiff. Hosted by Kenny Ellis, who has long made it a mission to marry the cantor and the comic within, there will be nods to his top-rated CD, “Hanukkah Swings!” Make the sixth night of Chanukah the best night. Mon. 8 p.m. $17-$30. The Laugh Factory, 8001 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 656-1336. TUE | DEC 3
“I’LL EAT YOU LAST: A CHAT WITH SUE MENGERS”
Bette Midler stars in the fresh-from-Broadway one-woman show that celebrates Tinseltown’s hottest talent agent. With clients like Barbra Streisand and Marlon Brando, and immigration to the United States from Germany when she was 5, Mengers’ story is a version of the American dream. The Divine Miss M, performing John Logan’s words and directed by Joe Mantello, captivates, entertains and charms. Tue. 8 p.m. Through Dec. 22. $87-$397. Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 208-5454. WED | DEC 4
The leading Israeli journalist and writer makes a rare Los Angeles appearance to discuss his new book, “My Promised Land.” By combining interviews, personal experiences, historical documents, private diaries and letters, Shavit captures all the elements that contribute to the relationship we each individually have with Israel. How does Israel’s past inform her present? What does origin have to do with future? A Q-and-A and book signing follow the program. Reservations recommended. Wed. 8 p.m. Free. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. FRI | DEC 6
“INTO THE NIGHT: PROGRESSION”
Nothing says early December like multimedia Jewish indie artists. With acts by rock band Avi Buffalo, the Los Angeles debut of Brooklyn-based performance group People Get Ready and a site-specific dance show by Jmy James Kidd and the Sunland Dancers, the evening will be a salute to some of the eager underground artists of our time. Come for the music, come for the movement, and come see the first-ever performance in the Skirball’s new Guerin Pavilion. Fri. 8:30 p.m. $15 (general), $20 (at the door). Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4500. SAT | DEC 7
The old country just got a little newer. Taking traditional sounds and themes and infusing them with some modern funk and interpretations, the Grammy-winning band brings rhythm and timeless spirit to its audiences. With 25 years of experience and a growing fan base with each performance, the Klezmatics have changed the face of the Yiddish imprint on popular culture. They are making history, performing history and you get to dance all the while. Sat. 7:30 p.m. $69-$108. The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 434-3200. SUN | DEC 8
“AMERIKANER SHADKHN” (AMERICAN MATCHMAKER)
Nat Silver is desperate to rid himself of his unlucky-in-love motif as his eighth engagement goes awry. Our urbane and neurotic hero sets up a matchmaking business to learn what it takes to find a match for himself in this 1940 romantic comedy by Edgar Ulmer. Part of Sholem Presents: Yiddish on the Silver Screen series. Other films coming up include “The Light Ahead” (Jan. 26) and “The Dybbuk” (Feb. 9). Sun. 10:15 a.m. $15 (general), $5 (members). Westside Neighborhood School, 5401 Beethoven St., Los Angeles. (818) 760-6625.” target=”_blank”>aju.edu.
THUR | DEC 12
The comedian, actor and writer has a new book of poetry out! “To Laughter With Questions” is a collection of serious and not-so-serious verse, limericks, rhymes and an attempt at iambic pentameter. While you might know him best from his many film and TV appearances, here is an opportunity to get to know the man more intimately. His collection is full of personal experiences, and with Berman having taught in USC’s Master of Professional Writing program, you know it’s well written. Thu. 7 p.m. Free. Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 659-3110. MON | DEC 23
WOODY ALLEN AND HIS NEW ORLEANS JAZZ BAND
Forget the movies — the man is making music. With more than 35 years of bringing New Orleans-inspired music to audiences all over the world, the band has mastered creating the sounds Allen has loved since childhood, including nods to George Lewis, Jimmie Noone and Louis Armstrong. Come because you liked “Manhattan,” and stick around because you’ll love New Orleans. Mon. 8 p.m. $52-$112. Royce Hall at UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101. FRI | DEC 27
“MARVIN HAMLISCH: WHAT HE DID FOR LOVE”
It makes more sense to tell you what Hamlisch was not responsible for when it comes to defining music — but sense is no fun. A musical prodigy at the age of 6, the conductor and composer was the brain behind “A Chorus Line,” and wrote the scores for “Sophie’s Choice,” “Ordinary People” and, more recently, “Behind the Candelabra.” In this first film biography, we get an inside portrait of one of the most respected artists of both the 20th and 21st centuries. Fri. 9 p.m. on PBS. Check local listings. SUN | JAN 12
A SALUTE TO ISRAEL
Join the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) Chief Cantor Shai Abramson, the IDF Vocal Ensemble and conductor Ofir Sobol for a community concert featuring classical, opera and Israeli music. Presented by Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, this benefit concert features a special guest appearance by IDF Chief Rabbi Rafi Peretz. Sun. $29-$180. 6:30 p.m Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 843-2690. FRI | JAN 17
The new year means we are all ripe for self-deprecation, and there is no one better to serve as our shepherd than Rivers. For more than 50 years she has been making us laugh, think, squirm, agree and disagree. Whether you saw her on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson,” spent revealing time with her in the documentary “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work” or currently watch her during awards season, you know exactly who Joan is and what you have to look forward to. Fri. 9 p.m. $77-$225. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. (323) 655-0111. SAT | JAN 18
The principal guest conductor leads one of the United Kingdom’s most prestigious orchestras through some Bach, Schoenberg and Brahms. Born in Tel Aviv, Zukerman trained at Juilliard before playing the violin with the London Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. After a successful career in recording, he began conducting in 1970. Since then, he has been a global musical leader, player and teacher. Forget the sounds of silence — bring on Zukerman. Sat. 8 p.m. $40-$65. Valley Performing Arts Center, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. (818) 677-3000. TUE | JAN 21
“THE BOOK OF MORMON”
It’s a religious satire musical from the guys who brought you “South Park” and “Avenue Q.” That means you’re gonna laugh. Tag along with a couple of Mormon missionaries as they try to spread the word to a remote village in Northern Uganda. It won nine Tony Awards in 2011, including best musical, so if you feel better about going to critically acclaimed things, you can feel good about this. Tue. 8 p.m. Through March 16. $43-$103. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 468-1770. THUR | FEB 13
“LOVE, MATHEMATICS, AND THE X-FILES”
“X-Files” co-creator Chris Carter is in conversation with Edward Frenkel — one of the 21st century’s leading mathematicians. Working on one of the biggest math ideas in 50 years — the Langlands Program — Frenkel, in his autobiography, reveals a side of math filled with all the metaphysical beauty, elegance and spirit of a work of art. Discover how the things you just thought were numbers might carry a charge of love. Thur. 7:15 p.m. Free (reservation required). Mark Taper Auditorium, Central Library, 630 W. Fifth St., downtown. (213) 228-7500. SAT | FEB 15
“SANDRA BERNHARD: I LOVE BEING ME, DON’T YOU?”
If you were a respected and talented comedian, singer, author, actor and monologist, you’d love being me, too! From a big break in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy,” to a recurring role on TV’s “Roseanne,” to off-Broadway successes, Bernhard understands entertaining. She will sing, she will muse about her teenage daughter, and she will love being her. And we love that. Sat. 8 p.m. $25-$60 (general), $15 (UCLA Students). Royce Hall at UCLA, 340 Royce Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 825-2101.
Ken Elkinson: Holiday sounds of chill
When musician Ken Elkinson began receiving kudos for his Christmas album, he knew it was time to return to his roots. “I started feeling guilty that I was selling my people out,” Elkinson, 40, said, speaking by phone from his home in Los Angeles. While he was in esteemed company among Jews who’d done Christmas albums or written Christmas songs — boldface names like Bob Dylan, Mel Tormé, Irving Berlin and Johnny Marks, to name but a few — Elkinson was ready to tackle Chanukah.
This year, Elkinson has become a double threat, releasing a pair of albums, “Chanukah Ambient” and “Christmas Ambient,” for the holidays. Ambient, a style of music popularized by artists like Brian Eno, Vangelis and Tangerine Dream, features heavy use of synthesizers to create a very atmospheric, often mellow tone. It may be most recognizable to people who’ve seen 1980s movies like “Legend,” “Blade Runner,” “The Keep” and “Chariots of Fire,” all of which heavily feature ambient pieces in their soundtracks.
For Elkinson, the choice to do ambient music was “more personal than musical.” A longtime pianist whose earlier albums were almost exclusively piano music, Elkinson’s children were a big part of his switch to ambient music — the form allows the composer to lay down one layer of sound, take a break to help out with the kids, and then go back into his studio to work. Elkinson said he also loves the depth of the music. “I like stuff where there’s a lot of complex things going on in the background,” he said.
Elkinson achieved some fame for his ambient compositions after his boxed set “Music for Commuting” was written up in The New York Times, The Washington Post and on CNN. “I’m still kind of baffled by it,” Elkinson said of the album’s wide appeal, which was heightened due to its release just before Carmageddon, the weekend-long closure of Los Angeles’ hyper-busy 405 freeway in 2011. It was a lot of attention for an album that Elkinson says had its genesis in his own need to calm down while driving. “I can’t stand watching people eat meals and shave and put on makeup and drive [at the same time],” the New Jersey native said.
Elkinson’s “Chanukah Ambient” album is certainly different from most Chanukah albums on the market, and he’s happy about it. “Some people are probably going to hate it,” he said, adding, “I have really thick skin, I’m totally fine with it. I just got tired of hearing the same songs over and over in the same way.”
Crafting the album became something of a learning process for Elkinson and deepened his understanding of the winter holiday. “I learned through this process that ‘Ocho Kandelikas’ is not a traditional Chanukah song; it’s actually something that was written in the ’80s,” said Elkinson of the song written by Bosnian Flory Jagoda, which people often think is a classic melody. “I feel more proud of the Chanukah music.”
Growing up, he said, he remembers Chanukah being a holiday that brought his family together, in a time before his parents divorced. “We didn’t get fancy presents. I always wanted an Atari and a dog and HBO and sugar cereals; those are the four things I always wanted for Chanukah, and I never got any of that stuff.” Like many former kids, he now remembers the holiday more for its gift of joy than for anything material. “It was a really happy time in my life.”
Today, Elkinson is excited about celebrating the holiday with his own kids. “I like passing the traditions on that I had as a child,” he said. And of course, there’s also the music. “They sing the songs the whole year. It’s funny watching them.”
Elkinson hopes his own album helps “calm people” during a time of holiday stress and brings them a “different perspective” on the familiar celebration. “It’s not like the Chanukah music you know,” Elkinson said.
“Why just do another boring dreidel song?”
Holiday tunes for when you haven’t got a prayer
I like work. It fascinates me. I can sit and look at it for hours.
— Jerome K. Jerome
Perhaps it is the intensity of the emotions raised by the liturgy itself. Or the power of worshipping in a sanctuary filled with people. Or the sense that everything is at stake.
I like to think it’s the music.
But whatever the reason, the High Holidays provide some of the greatest frissons one can experience in a synagogue. And the music is, indeed, a big part of those rising chills. One need look no farther than four new CDs that include generous helpings of music for the Days of Awe to hear evidence of the power of these holidays to inspire composers and performers.
Sometimes the simplest music has the greatest impact. Consider “Shomeah Tefillah: Prayers of the High Holy Days,” a CD by Cantor Lois Welber of Temple B’nai Israel, Revere, Mass. Almost all the music on this recording is from Israel Alter, one of the great Conservative cantors of the 20th century.
Alter didn’t write classical hazanut; his compositions are devoid of the coloratura pyrotechnics of the Golden Age cantors. Rather, his settings of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur liturgies, published 35 years ago, are straightforward, emotionally direct and comparatively simple. And that is the source of their power.
Welber opts for an equally simple and powerful approach. Accompanied only by organist Ernest Rakhlin or pianist David Sparr, she tackles Alter’s music head-on, not with flash but great feeling. Welber has a resonant mezzo voice, not glitzy but profoundly effective. The result is a tribute to the power of simplicity.
The mandolin i
s an instrument whose sound resonates with poignancy. In the hands of masters like Dave Grisman and Andy Statman, the gentle ringing of its strings carries a powerful emotional charge.
Put those two musicians together with “a collection of timeless Jewish melodies,” as their new CD “New Shabbos Waltz” bills itself, and the result is a sterling blend of deeply emotive music.
The set kicks off with a melancholy “Avinu Malkeinu,” with Statman’s plangent clarinet stating the traditional tune while Grisman comps behind him. The duo deftly trade leads on this and the other cuts on the record, aided immeasurably by some silky slide guitar from Bob Brozman and rock-solid timekeeping by Hal Blaine on drums and Jim Kerwin on bass.
Statman is in a more playful mood than on his recent excursions into Chasidic mysticism, and his interplay with Grisman is delightful throughout.
Two of the latest entries in Naxos Records’ series of Milken Archive recordings feature contemporary orchestral pieces inspired by the High Holiday liturgy. In fact, both Herman Berlinski (“From the World of My Father”) and David Stock (“A Little Miracle”) have tried their hand at re-imaginings of the shofar service for Rosh Hashanah. (Given that this year Rosh Hashanah falls on Shabbat and there is no shofar service, I find this an amusing coincidence.)
Berlinski (1910-2001) was a student of the great Nadia Boulanger, albeit an unhappy one, and I think I detect some of her influence in the rich, dense sound tapestry of Berlinski’s “From the World of My Father,” a lovely 1941 piece that pays homage to the synagogue and folk music of Eastern Europe. His 1964 “Shofar Service” is a fairly straightforward setting of the old Union Prayerbook liturgy, here ably performed by the BBC Singers conducted by Avner Itai.
Not surprisingly, Berlinski blends two trumpets with the shofar itself, to considerable dramatic effect. Although he was a friend of Olivier Messiaen and his circle, on the pieces included here, Berlinski is not interested in the less-is-more aesthetic of Messiaen; his is a resolutely post-Romantic palette, whether he is writing for organ (“The Burning Bush”) or full orchestra (“Symphonic Visions for Orchestra”).
Stock, who was born in 1939, is of a more obviously modernist bent than Berlinski. His operatic monodrama, “A Little Miracle,” which retells an extraordinary story of Holocaust survivors, owes a bit of its rhythmic drive to Schoenberg (perhaps with a nod to Gershwin).
But his “Yizkor” is surprisingly conservative, powerfully melodic and quietly restrained. By contrast, his shofar piece, “Tekiah,” written for trumpet and crisply performed by Stephen Burns and the Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble with the composer conducting, has moments that are distinctly reminiscent of the heyday of minimalism. One hears echoes of Glass in the repetitive ensemble figures behind the staccato trumpet line, and the contrast between foreground and background is a fruitful one. The result is an intriguing recording, but I don’t imagine your local shul is going to try it any time soon.
George Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week. His book, “Essential Torah: A Complete Guide to the Five Books of Moses,” will be published by Shocken Books in October.
“From the World of My Father” and “A Little Miracle” can be purchased at www.milkenarchive.org.
PASSOVER: Songs for a Swinging Seder
Of all the Jewish holidays, none is so firmly rooted in the home and so joyously celebrated with song as Passover. This simple fact would lead you to expect an avalanche of Passover records, but this year the avalanche is more like a mild rain of pebbles, at least in the quantity department. The quality is pretty high, but don’t count on finding much for your own seder table. These records should come with the warning: “Trained singing professionals; do not try this at home.”
The two most unusual and interesting of the four new CDs both use hip-hop as a touchstone. Samples, cut-ups, rapping, multiple overdubbing with hard beats — the usual package — used artfully by Craig Taubman on “The Passover Lounge” (Craig + Co.) and Josh Dolgin, better known as SoCalled, on “The SoCalled Seder: A Hip-Hop Haggadah” (JDub).
Taubman’s outing is more musically conservative, generally staying close to the familiar holiday tunes and drawing on a trippy vibe that nicely complements his breezy tenor singing. Co-producer Luke Tozour provides some tasty beats and samples and a lot of friendly ambient sound. (Hey, guys, my seder never sounds this mellow — where is all the screaming and yelling?) It’s a nice little package that turns the Four Questions into juicy, dreamy funk and the recounting of the plagues into something like “old-skool horror” rap. If Taubman has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek, the humor is affectionate and endearing.
SoCalled, unsurprisingly, is after something tougher, with more street cred and a straight-razor edge. Taking samples from old how-to-do-a-seder records and slicing and dicing them into a bubbling stew of breakbeat sounds, scratching from P.Love, klezmer instrumentals from Elaine and Susan Hoffman Watts, high-powered sax funk from Paul Shapiro, and a startling rap from Killah Priest on the plagues, he has created a Pesach for downtown hipsters. I love it but I’m pretty sure my zayde would not. As the old joke goes, if he were alive, this would kill him. Be forewarned.
If you are seeking a more traditional Passover recording, you might be more comfortable with “The Spirit of Passover: Voices of the Conservative Movement” (Cantors Assembly/United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism), a sampler that was actually released last year but which didn’t turn up on my desk until a few weeks ago. The current issue of Judaism is devoted to a long discussion of the current state and possible future of the Conservative movement, but if you want a truly vivid portrait of the many directions in which its adherents are pulling, this CD is the thing.
The record opens with a burst of Hollywood Strings-style kitsch that suddenly turns into a veritable explosion of “Ki Lo Na’eh/Had Gadya” sung by the Three Jewish Tenors. Meir Finkelstein, Alberto Mizrahi and David Propis sound like the musical equivalent of human cannonballs on this gleeful tribute to Moyshe Oysher, but it’s not a great idea to open a record at this energy level, because anything that follows is bound to be a letdown.
And much of what follows is a new-agey, Celine Dionish ode to Rebbe Nachman written by Jeff Klepper and sung by Eva Robbins, although nothing is quite so dire as “The Empty Chair.” Things couldn’t get worse than that and, fortunately, they don’t. Indeed, there are some real high points: a lithe “Dayeinu” performed by the Syracuse Children’s Chorus, a supremely simple but powerful “Hodu Ladonai” from Sam Weiss, a haunting “Livbavtini” in which a multitracked Ramon Tasat duets with himself and an audacious “Prayer for Dew: Tal” in which Moshe Schulhof sings with a recording of the legendary Yossele Rosenblatt. If you look up “chutzpahdik” in the dictionary, you’ll probably find a photo of Schulhof, but to his everlasting credit, he holds his own with the man most consider the single greatest hazzan of all time. (Available from www.TheSpiritSeries.com.)
The final entry in this year’s Pesach sweepstakes is a somber one, Max Helfman’s “Di Naye Hagode” (Milken Archive/Naxos). Helfman’s oratorio is not, strictly speaking, a Passover commemoration in the strict sense of the word. Rather, it is a 1948 piece he wrote in memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which began on Passover in 1943. Using the seder as a structural armature on which to mount “di naye hagode,” that is, “the new telling,” Helfman wrote a frequently powerful, occasionally bombastic piece for choir, narrator and orchestra. This recording features particularly forceful contributions from the Choral Society of Southern California, the Los Angeles Zimriyah Chorale and narrator Theodore Bikel, who never succumbs to the temptation to “emote,” wisely allowing Itzik Fefer’s stark, bleak text to do the hard work. The CD also features an effective rendition of Helfman’s “Hag Habikkurim” and a surprisingly mournful “The Holy Ark.” The result is one of the best releases in the Milken Archive series to date.
George Robinson is the film and music critic for Jewish Week. His book, “Essential Torah,” will be published by Shocken Books in fall 2006.
Shticking It to the Classics
My 5-year-old thinks “My Yiddishe Mama,” the soulful ballad immortalized by Sophie Tucker in 1928, is a rock anthem. The version he learned didn’t come from a dusty old record, but from a CD released in 2004 by the group, Yiddishe Cup, called “Meshugeneh Mambo.”
This is not your grandmother’s Jewish music. Like other recent Jewish parody CDs, “Meshugeneh Mambo” carries on the tradition of Jewish humor popularized by such forbearers as Mickey Katz and Allan Sherman. Although the lounge acts of the Catskills have all but vanished, a few intrepid souls are bringing a modern brand of Borscht Belt humor to a whole new generation.
Yiddishe Cup’s album combines soulful klezmer ballads, doo-wop and, of course, Latin flair. The title track sets the tone, promising “No frailech [joyful] hora can compare/ to shaking your Yiddishe dierriere/ to the lovely Mesugheneh Mambo.”
The group’s rendition of “My Yiddishe Mama” throws in homage to James Bond’s “Goldfinger” and the theme song to “The Patty Duke Show.” Listen closely and you will hear spoofs of “Star Trek,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Outer Limits” scattered about in the traditional melodies and remakes of comedy routines created in the 1950s.
Newer artists like Yiddishe Cup have learned from the old comedic masters that classic Jewish humor relies on cleverness rather than anger. The best comics “tell a story that is visual and makes you think,” said Simon Rutberg of Hatikvah International on Fairfax Avenue. “Using the word ‘shmuck’ doesn’t make it Jewish.”
Instead, skilled artists allow listeners to recognize themselves and the universal truths behind the tales and tunes.
One artist who stresses ruach (spirit) over raunch is Michael Lange. The director, whose credits include “Life Goes On” and “The X-Files,” has released several titles under his Silly Music label. In November, Lange will release “A Kosher Christmas,” a collection of popular yuletide melodies coupled with decidedly Jewish-themed lyrics. It’s a strange experience indeed to hear the traditional orchestrations — think bells, trumpets and choral harmonies — as singers croon about litigation, food, guilt and family (categories that Lange refers to as “the four cornerstones of the Jewish experience.”)
In “Such a Loyal Son Am I,” a take-off on “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” a mother and son alternate kvetching about one another: (Him:) Not so easy with this mother/Still a loyal son am I. (Her:) Not a doctor like his brother/Such a shanda [shame] I should cry. “Greensleeves” is re-imagined as “Greenstein,” an ode to the singer’s childhood crush, Tiffany Greenstein.
And, of course, food plays a significant role, as in “Harvey Weisenberg” (to the tune of “Good King Wenceslas”): “[which] Soup would he pick, wondered he:/Lentil, borscht or chicken/As he ate he thought with glee:/This is finger lickin’….
Lange previously created two Broadway musical parodies. “Goys and Dolls,” released in 2002, uses the original melodies of “Guys and Dolls” to tell the story of a young man who begins dating a non-Jewish woman, while “Say Oy Vey” re-imagines “Cabaret” as the story of two seniors who find romance at synagogue bridge night.
Musicals are also the targets of spoofs created by the group Shlock Rock, whose founder, Lenny Solomon, hails from a long line of cantors. Their 2003 release, “Almost on Broadway,” transforms “Maria” from “West Side Story” to “Tekia”: “Tekia! I’ve just heard the sound called Tekia!”
Shlock Rock boasts 23 albums to its credit, ranging from original compositions to children’s music to parody. The group’s nine other parody CD’s display an impressive range of musical styles, Judaic knowledge and humor. In one, for example, Paul Simon’s “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” becomes “49 Days to Count the Omer,” while in another, “Livin’ La Vida Loca” by Ricky Martin morphs into “Learning to Do the Hora.” And you’ve got to wonder what kind of mind would think of transforming the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna” into “Rabbi Akiva”: “Rabbi Akiva had straw for a bed/Love thy neighbor like thyself is what he said.”
While they’re amusing to listen to, be forewarned: The lyrics stick with you. So when the time comes for my son to join his kindergarten classmates for the annual holiday assembly in December, he’ll be easy to pick out. He’ll be the one singing “Goys Rule the World.”
OASIS: 1:30-3 p.m. Weekly Yiddish conversation group for seniors. 8838 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 446-8053.
Brandeis-Bardin Institute: Dec. 21-Dec. 26. Camp Alonim winter experience for kids in grades 2-11. (805) 582-4450.
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
Los Angeles Master Chorale: 7 p.m. Latin holiday music celebration featuring jazz and vocal artists. $10-$79. Walt Disney Concert Hall,
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Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring:
Workmen’s Circle: 6:30 p.m. “Jewish Vegetarianism” vegetarian potluck and talk with Gene Gordon. Bring a dish or beverage to serve eight to 10 people. Free. R.S.V.P., (310) 552-2007.
Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring:
Shalhevet Middle School: 10 a.m. Open house for grades 5-8.
910 S. Farifax Ave., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 930-9333, ext. 230.
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Jewish Family Service and Friendship Circle: 7:30-9 p.m. Support group for parents of children with special needs. Meets on first and third Thursdays of each month.
The New JCC at Milken,
22622 Vanowen St., West Hills.
Orthodox Union: Dec. 23-Dec. 26. West Coast Torah Convention. For more information, see article on page 19.
Sunshine Seniors Club: 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Weekly meeting at new location. Valley Cities JCC, 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 764-4532.
Jewish Family Service and Friendship Circle: 7:30-9 p.m. Support group for parents of children with special needs. Meets on first and third Thursdays of each month. The New JCC at Milken, 22622 Vanowen St., West Hills. (818) 464-3333.
Jewish Outdoor Adventures: 10:30 a.m. Christmas Day Hike to Eagle Rock with the Sierra Club. Topanga State Park, 20825 Entrada Road, Los Angeles. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jewish Singles, Meet! (30s-40s): “What’s a nice Jewish guy or gal doing on Dec. 25?” party. $10. Sylmar residence. R.S.V.P., (818) 750-0095.
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Harbor Jewish Singles (55+): 1 p.m. Lunch and a movie at Metro Point. (714) 633-8878.
Chai Center: 2-5 p.m. “Not a Christmas Party” for all ages at private outdoor location. $10. Hancock Park. R.S.V.P., (310) 391-7995.
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Israeli Folk Dancing: 8 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Classes by Israel Yakove meet Mondays and Thursdays. $7. 2244 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 839-2550.
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West Valley JCC: 8-11 p.m. Israeli folk dancing with James Zimmer. $5-$6. Salsa, swing and tango lessons for an additional $3 (7-8 p.m.). (310) 284-3638.day
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Nexus (20s-40s): 6 p.m. Volleyball and
no-host dinner at a local restaurant. End of Culver Boulevard, near court 15,
Playa del Rey. www.jewishnexus.org.
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Conversations at Leon’s: 7 p.m. “First Dates, What They Say About You.” $15-$17.
639 26th St., Santa Monica. (310) 393-4616.
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New Age Singles (55+): New Year’s Eve party with bus to Glendale, dinner and the play, “Come Blow Your Horn.” $60-$62. R.S.V.P., (818) 347-8355.
Gifts Galore From Bubbe to Baby
|When it’s time to celebrate Chanukah, nobody should be left out of the fun. We’ve scoured the holiday gift scene to find the perfect presents for Mom, Dad and the whole family. Count on any of these “candles” to light up the face of someone you love during this year’s Festival of Lights.|
Candle No. 1.
Who says a baby is too young to light a menorah? As they say, practice makes perfect. So start with the huggable, colorful “My First Plush Menorah” ($13.95, oytoys.com). The best part: It comes with a special pouch holding nine candles that fit right into the menorah’s holders.
Candle No. 2.
Any young child would want to cuddle with the bright blue Mazel teddy bear by Russ Berrie & Co. ($12.99, amazon.com). But if you’re having trouble peeling a kid away from the computer, slip in the CD-ROM, “Who Stole Hanukkah?” ($19.95, davka.com). The interactive mystery game teaches the story of the Maccabees in five languages.
Candle No. 3.
When it comes to teenagers away at college, first thing’s first: send a menorah. A classic Chanukiah will do the job ($24.95, crateandbarrel.com). Then, it’s about what a teenage girl wants. A trendy T-shirt makes a statement. The “Famous Challah Bread” tee takes its cue from rap and hip-hop, sporting the words “Challah Bread” on the front and “Challah Back” on the back — as in, when someone gives a shout, you “challah” right back. The saucy “Kabballywood Tee” pokes fun at Hollywood stars like Madonna who can’t get enough of kabbalah. ($30-$40, chosencouture.com).
For an aspiring superhero teenage boy, pick up a copy of the “Jewish Super Hero Corps Comic Book” featuring Menorah Man and Dreidel Maidel ($3.95, jewcy.com). Throw in some classic, kosher Hebrew Bazooka Gum, which has comics inside its wrappers ($10.95 for 100 pieces, jewishsource.com). Another Jewish superhero, “The Hebrew Hammer,” saves Chanukah, this year out on DVD. ($16.99, thehebrewhammer.com)
Candle No. 4.
If Mom has all the menorahs she needs, give her an elegant dreidel she can display. Waterford makes a beautiful, crystal dreidel etched with Hebrew letters ($49, bloomingdales.com). If you want to splurge, buy a handcrafted, porcelain, Lladró dreidel. The detail makes these pieces unique. ($105-$130, macys.com).
Candle No. 5.
Nudge Dad into the miracle mood with music. The group, Safam, has a lively “Chanukah Collection” and “Passover Collection” two-CD set ($25, safam.com). Original and upbeat tunes like “Eight Little Candles,” “Maoz Tsur” and “Judah Maccabee” will get Dad — and the whole family — hopping. You can listen to some songs on the Web site before you buy, but you won’t go wrong with this one.
Candle No. 6.
Grandparents will love a gift they can share with their grandchildren. Those who speak a bissel of Yiddish are sure to get nachas from reading their grandchildren Dr. Seuss’ “Cat in the Hat” — in Yiddish ($15, jewcy.com). But if the language of the Old World prompts an “oy vey,” go with a modern classic like “A Blue’s Clues Chanukah” by Jessica Lissy for preschoolers ($11.80, amazon.com) or “Festival of Lights: The Story of Hanukkah” by Maida Silverman, for children 4-8 years old ($5.99, amazon.com).
Candle No. 7.
There’s always the family friend or baby sitter who deserves some love. In this case, your best bet is an edible treat. For a cookie “monster,” get some chocolate-covered Oreo cookies topped with Chanukah decorations. Nine cookies come in a gold box, tied with a blue ribbon ($16.99, macys.com). Make a chocolate lover’s day with See’s Candies’ Star-of-David box. It’s filled with kosher goodies like milk chocolate coins, blue-and-white sugar sticks and lollipops that will satisfy any sweet tooth ($8, seescandy.com).
Candle No. 8.
Worried your pet will feel left out? Chanukah’s no time for ordinary ol’ bones. Throw a dog the blue and yellow “Squeaky Dreidel Dog Toy” ($8, jewishsource.com) and a give your cat some silver and blue “Chanukah Mice” ($7.99, petco.com).
Give Thanksgiving a Jewish Flavor
7 Days In Arts
Aaron Samson wrote and stars in “Not Dead Yet,” a piece inspired by his grandfather’s memoirs of his Russian past: working for Leon Trotsky, the consequent threat of execution by Russia’s communist regime and his quick escape to the United States where he began a new life. The one-man show follows the journey of a grandson, Jacob Samson, back to Russia to find his roots and the missing pieces of the story his grandfather Leo wrote down. It plays today at the Elephant Lab.Runs Saturdays, through Sept. 18. 8 p.m. $10. 1078 Lillian Way, Los Angeles. (323) 878-2377.
Might wanna throw some buttered popcorn into the picnic basket tonight for the Hollywood Bowl’s movie night program, “The Big Picture.” John Mauceri conducts the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra in selections from MGM/UA movie scores, as scenes from the films are projected on the Bowl’s giant screen. The James Bond series, “Rocky,” “The Pink Panther” and “West Side Story” are some of the featured films.7:30 p.m. $3-$88. 2301 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood. (213) 480-3232 (for tickets).
Horn in on High Holiday fun with shofar-making activities this week. The Hebrew Discovery Center holds a Shofar Factory Party on Sunday for kids ages 5 and up, while Calabasas Shul holds a shofar-making workshop at the local Albertsons today.HDC: Sept. 5, Noon. $7 (per child, include slice of pizza and refreshments). (818) 348-4432. Calabasas Shul: Sept. 6, 5-6:30 p.m. $5 (per shofar). (818) 591-7485.
The Mexican Jewish community isn’t one that gets much ofa spotlight, but for filmmaker Guita Shyfter, it made sense to focus on her ownroots and community. “Like a Bride” (“Novia Que Te Vea”) is the result. Thefilm’s uncommon subject matter is made more unique by its treatment: the storyof two women friends coming of age in 1960s Mexico City is told primarilythrough dialogue in Ladino and Spanish, with some Hebrew and Yiddish, as well.It is newly released on DVD. $17.96.
Klezmer goes upbeat in the latest CD by Yiddishe Cup,”Meshugeneh Mambo.” Six parody tracks pay tribute to klezmer comedian MickeyKatz, with the rest offering up original or reworked “neo-Borscht Belt klezmercomedy” tunes, and the titles say it all: “K’nock Around the Clock,” “I Am A Manof Constant Blessings” and “Second Avenue Square Dance.” $15.
Sports nuts despair not. With the close of this summer’s Olympic Games also comes the opening of “Game Face: What Does a Female Athlete Look Like?” at USC Fisher Gallery. The exhibition features photographs of women from the 1890s to today participating in sports from hunting to ping-pong to soccer. Creator Jane Gottesman has compiled images from myriad sources, including the Associated Press and various renown photographers including Ansel Adams, Robert Mapplethorpe, April Saul and Annie Leibowitz.Runs through Oct. 30. Noon-5 p.m. (Tues.-Sat.). Harris Hall, 823 Exposition Blvd., Los Angeles. (213) 740-4561.
The Nuart goes behind the music tonight, presenting the L.A. premiere of “End of the Century,” a documentary about the seminal punk rock band, The Ramones. From their interpersonal disputes to their struggles for fame, the doc takes a hard look at the hard-living band that arguably failed to achieve the recognition they deserved until long after they’d split.11272 Santa Monica Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 281-8223.
Short Films, Big Messages
ADL Rock and Rawls
About 900 supporters of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)
“We stand for the civilized human beings of the world,” said
His half-hour opening speech stirred the ballroom crowd as
The ADL gave a Lifetime Achievement Award to Billy and
“I’m almost speechless, almost,” said retired real estate
The event’s keynote speaker was Canadian writer Irshad
Manji gave a provocative speech in which she outlined
“Our version of independent thinking died on our watch,”
After the speech Rawls covered “They Can’t Take That Away
“We like to be around groovy people,” Rawls told the crowd,
Young Israel of Century City’s (YICC) Dec. 6 Night of Comedy
“I’m much more ambitious when I’m setting the alarm clock
Fellow clean comic Wayne Fetterman’s “guy” adaptation of
Jewish hipster musician Peter Himmelman performed
Among the synagogue members enjoying the laughs and
“Jews are best when they can laugh at themselves,” he said.
Happening at Hakim’s
Persian Jews in their early 20s to late 30s bought bags of
Hakim’s daughter, Melinda, organized the event — which
“I wanted it to be a Chanukah holiday party that was
Mastaneh Moghadam, the Farsi liaison for JFS, briefed the
“Through the family violence project and programs dealing
She also noted that JFS provides referral services and case
Read Around the
Although J.K. Rowling has managed to lure kids away from the
The school invited guest readers such as grandparents,
“This is part of an ongoing plan to increase reading and its
For more information about Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy or
On Nov. 18 at the University of Judaism, award-wining writer
When hostesses are united wonderful things happen. On Nov. 1
Minds over Milken
While the community was all in a tizzy about the recent
On Nov. 12, the American Society for Technion-Israel
At the event, Technion professor Wayne Kaplan spoke about
Milken is not the only school whose students are being
Bregman is an all-rounder at Valley Torah. He has been the
“Bregman has demonstrated excellence in the classroom and in
7 Days In Arts
Having survived the eight days, you’re back to breaking
Like cops and doughnut shops, like Rodgers and Hart, like Gershwin and Gershwin, Jews and American popular music just seem to go together. Coincidence? Jacqueline Bassan doesn’t think so — and she expounds her theory in the pages of her new book, “From Shul to Cool: The Romantic Jewish Roots of American Popular Music.” Head to Valley Beth Shalom today to hear more about it.
11:15 a.m. 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.
The Center for Jewish Culture and Creativity offers an original option for commemorating Yom HaShoah and the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising this evening — a dramatic musical suite titled “Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 1943.” Composed by Yale Strom and performed by the Center’s ensemble, Synergy, the program is co-sponsored and hosted by the Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance.
7:30 p.m. $18 (general), $15 (members), $10 (students). 9786 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (310) 772-2452.
Props to Cal Rep for their good timing, as they open their not-so-France-friendly production of “Diary of a Chambermaid” this week. The story focuses on Celestine, a chambermaid who begins a new position with an eccentric French family and is eventually seduced by each of the various men in the household. Written as a critique of French bourgeois hypocrisy during the Dreyfus affair, some would say the message still resonates today.
7 p.m. (Tuesday-Thursday), 8 p.m. (Friday), 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. (Saturday). $15-$20. Edison Theatre, 213 E. Broadway, Long Beach. (562) 432-1818.
Cantors Chayim Frenkel and Meir Finkelstein have put
7 Days In Arts
The Sound of Cantors
For Shannon McGrady Bane, the music of the High Holidays had always welled up into a transcendent, life-changing event. Raised a Methodist, she found the theology of Judaism a better intellectual fit while attending college. There, a rabbi asked her to sing the holiday repertoire.
“It opened up another world for me,” said McGrady Bane, 37, a cantorial soloist at La Mirada’s Temple Beth Ohr, who converted to Judaism and is working on completing her cantorial education.
For many Jews who make an annual pilgrimage to synagogue only during the High Holidays, it is cantors who summon a spiritual experience. “The key that opens the soul is music, not words,” said Shula Kalir-Merton, cantor of Aliso Viejo’s Temple Beth El.
Cantors believe most congregants revel in hearing the repetition of the familiar, traditional chants sung exclusively on High Holidays. Even so, like any performer with a captive audience, some cantors use the showcase to experiment, introducing fresh arrangements of traditional melodies as well as popular ones by contemporary composers.
“This is the high point for cantors; it’s very high drama,” said Cantor Linda Ecker of Fountain Valley’s Congregation B’nai Tzedak. This year, her repertoire of prayers set to music will include three original pieces composed by congregant Ted Bach.
Today, the liturgical music of Conservative and Reform congregations are a blend of traditional melodies, Germanic and high-church in quality, along with others sung in a contemporary-folk style familiar to fans of Bob Dylan, but also popularized among cantors by the late Israeli rabbi, Shlomo Carlebach. For congregants in their 20s and 30s, however, a reliance solely on classical European melodies is a playlist for discontent. “It doesn’t mesh with our spirituality,” said Rabbi Elie Spitz, of Tustin’s Congregation B’nai Israel. After doing without a cantor for 21 years, the synagogue hired Cantor Marcia Tilchin, who appreciates both genres.
Tilchin, along with another newcomer, Svetlana Portnyansky, increase the ranks of women cantors locally to seven. While the Orthodox movements still do not permit women clergy, even in the Reform and Conservative movements it’s only been in the last 25 years that women could officially become cantors. Entrenched attitudes, however, erode even slower. Only in recent years, as old-timers in synagogue leadership are succeeded by baby boomers, are women cantors gaining acceptance, said Abraham B. Shapiro, executive administrator of New York’s Cantors Assembly, the 538-member professional group for Conservative cantors.
The very different backgrounds and training of the new cantors, both hired by Conservative synagogues, illustrate the national shortage of Jewish clergy, a phenomenon true of other religions, too. Their differences also provide a window into the sensitive subject of cantorial professionalism. Many congregations, especially in the Western states, rely on cantors who lack academic credentials. Instead, they learn the distinctive prayer chants in apprenticeships by studying at the elbow of mentor cantors.
The reasons range from geography to historical precedent to regulatory reluctance. In addition, new synagogues are outpacing new graduates, said Cantor Israel Goldstein, director of the School of Sacred Music at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, which graduated 12 cantors this year. The Conservative Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) installed nine more as cantors in 2002. Both New York schools are no more than 50 years old.
“Very few congregations would employ rabbis who are not ordained,” Goldstein said. To avoid constitutional conflicts, unlike in other professions, states largely avoid establishing professional standards for clergy.
Portnyansky, 37, named permanent cantor of Newport Beach’s Temple Isaiah, is more accurately called a cantorial soloist since she lacks a diploma or certification by a professional group. A conservatory-trained vocalist, she discovered sacred music in 1988 when the Moscow Jewish Theater reopened 40 years after its closure by Stalin. In 1991, she defected, ditching the Russian music group she toured with in the United States. Though not fluent in Hebrew, Portnyansky auditioned to be accepted by JTS, singing Ukranian folk songs. “They took me,” she said. “I was almost illegal.”
After transferring to Los Angeles’ University of Judaism (said to be considering starting a cantorial program) and taking private lessons, she started working part time as a cantorial soloist in 1994. She continues secular concert work, too. During the holidays, Portnyansky, who lives in Woodland Hills, intends to tinker little with what people expect. She may anyway. “You can improvise from your heart,” she said.
Conversely, Tilchin, 41, a JTS graduate, prays in a traditional style. “I’m like the old guys murmuring with a couple of great, grand pieces thrown in,” said Tilchin, who studied and worked in theater before enrolling in cantorial school in 1992. Given a choice of secular jobs, hers would be country music singer.
“We’re looking for a different kind of music experience than we were in the old days,” she said, when High Holiday soloists sung prayers as operatic arias. Today, she said, “97 percent of the people don’t know the meaning of the prayers. It’s the tune that makes you feel like you’re having a spiritual experience.”
She sees her job as communal cheerleader engaging congregants rather than one defined by the limelight.
The county’s only other invested cantor is Jonathan Grant of Newport Beach’s Temple Bat Yahm.
Historically, only congregations of 600 families or more could afford two full-time clergy. Nationally, cantors — who earn less than rabbis — average $92,500 annually, according to the University of Akron’s Department of Statistics, which surveyed Cantors Assembly members in 2000. The highest paid were in the West, averaging $97,000.
To accommodate second-career students and help address the cantor shortage, the cantorial schools and their movements’ respective professional groups established a certification process. Cantorial soloists can demonstrate their competency during a five-year period. Just four cantorial soloists a year succeed, said Goldstein, of HUC-JIR’s cantorial school.
One who did is Ecker, who graduated in 1998, having sung at the temple’s first service in September 1976. “By the time it opened up to women, I was already married” and established professionally as a senior accountant at UCI’s Medical Center, she said.
“There are more and more untraditional students that the college should start looking at,” argues Cantor Evan Kent, director of cantorial music at HUC-JIR’s Los Angeles campus, which this September will start offering some undergraduate education classes geared to returning students.
The certification process is harder than attending graduate school. “Because when you are in school, you’re tested as you go,” said McGrady Bane, who is working toward certification by taking Judaic studies at HUC-JIR. Passing the cantorial certification requires successfully taking two exams a year apart. “It’s a lot of information to have at your ready,” she said.
McGrady Bane said she loves the music of the High Holidays. “It’s always been my favorite season, because the music is so stirring, majestic and passionate.”
She is using a new piece this year that evokes those emotions; a choral and trumpet piece written for the 134th Psalm by contemporary composer Charles Feldman. “It’s grand. It’s very majestic. It’ll start the new year off right.”
Homage for the Holidays
Don’t call her the “Jewel” of Jewish preschool.
Sure, Pearl B. sings to the accompaniment of her acoustic six-string. And she does lean professionally on her gem-like first name. But that is where any similarity to the chirpy pop star ends.
“There are so many levels of Judaism — from the most religious to the most secular kind of Jew and there’s this common thread…. My goal is to make it understandable for a young child.”
No aching tales of love lost here — the songs Pearl B. (the B is for Berzansky) writes for young Jewish children mix the joy for Jewish tradition with “a bit of silliness in the approach.” Pearl will perform her original compositions — along with traditional Chanukah songs — at a string of local appearances with Sue Epstein, a fellow writer/performer of Jewish children’s songs, beginning this Sunday.
Last year saw the release of Pearl B.’s first musical collection, “Gotta Sing All Week Long!” On the tape, the modern-day bard sings, but not alone — choruses performed by children fill out the songs, with the binary purpose of inviting child participation and reinforcing the positive Jewish values that is at the heart of each ditty. While several tracks deal with life’s daily routines, most of “Gotta Sing” celebrates Jewish ritual. “Days of the Week” enthusiastically counts down the week until the Sabbath. “Havdalah Trio!” embraces the end of Shabbat, singing the praises of the Kiddush cup’s purple wine, the spice box and the twisty candle. “Hallah Chain Hamotzi” incorporates the Hebrew bread prayer while “Jing-a-ling” rhapsodizes tzedakah and even gives a shout-out to SOVA, the local food-collection charity organization.
Born in South Africa, where “everybody belongs to an Orthodox shul even though nobody was Orthodox,” Pearl — whom the kids like to call “Curl” — currently resides in Venice. A mother of three and grandmother of six, Pearl is no stranger to children or Judaism. All three of her grown children are observant Jews, “each in a different kind of religiousness. My oldest daughter is a Lubavitcher, my middle daughter is [Modern Orthodox], and my son is a black hatter…. And they’re all so happy.”
A rabbi’s daughter, she spent many years working as a religious-school director and teacher before switching to a full-time music career five years ago.
“It kind of just mushroomed,” says Pearl.
“I’ve had parents tell me their kids won’t go to sleep unless they put my tape on.”
Parents and educators interested in purchasing copies of “Gotta Sing All Week Long!” will find the tapes on sale at temple gift shops, synagogues and at these upcoming Pearl B. appearances:
Pearl B. and Sue Epstein’s Magical Musical Chanukah Party Family Concerts, Sunday Dec. 6, 4 p.m., Temple Aliyah, 6025 Valley Circle Blvd., Woodland Hills.
Sunday Dec. 13, 1:30 p.m., Wilshire Boulevard Temple, Mann Family Early Childhood Center, Marcia Israel Chapel Auditorium, Audrey and Sydney Irmas Campus, 11661 W. Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. — Michael Aushenker, Community Editor
The Power of Israel
‘Mendel & Moses’
When Mendel Moscowitz is transported from Brooklyn to ancient Egypt, the juxtaposition of a whiny New Yorker on the eve of the Exodus is supposed to create the setting for campy high jinks and musical hilarity.
Billed as “Fiddler on the Roof” meets “The Ten Commandments,” original musical “Mendel & Moses” feels more like “The Little Rascals” meets Soupy Sales. It has an amateurish “let’s put on a show” quality with an overabundance of shticky one-liners that even Sales might be embarrassed to use.
The action begins after a Passover seder, when Mendel questions God about the meaning of the holiday. Gabriel, straight out of the Bible and dressed in full Egyptian regalia, takes Mendel back to Egyptian slave days.
“How far is Egypt? Do I get frequent-flier miles?” asks Mendel, played by veteran actor Ciro Barbaro.
“Here I am in Egypt without my Mylanta,” he says. And the canned music kicks in. Oy.
The warmed-over Catskills schlock appeared to leave the audience at Sunday’s performance a little queasy as well.
Written by Jeremiah and Wendy Ginsberg, the show is a misguided hodgepodge of styles. In the opening scene, Mendel’s family is singing about Passover while three women dressed in red are inexplicably rendering Bob Fosse-esque dance moves. In another scene, a slave sporting a goofy burlap outfit attempts to deliver a serious monologue about the brutality of slavery — a moment that is misplaced among the wacky musical numbers.
And when I say wacky, I mean lyrics such as “lice aren’t nice, so take my advice, avoid the lice.” And perhaps the most egregious example: “eenie-meenie-minie Moses, catch the Pharaoh by his toes-es.” Even the Little Rascals might have come up with something less grating.
The cast, most of whom have a list of impressive credits, do their best to compensate for the material. Still, in the intimate Century City Playhouse, their acting has the overblown feel of bad childrens’ theater.
While the creators of the musical are attempting to teach us about Jewish history, they are also feeding us a full course of unpleasant Jewish stereotypes, including a squealing Jewish American Princess as Eve and even Mendel himself, who convinces Moses that he should help alleviate slavery because he’s a good businessman.
The only audience members who seemed to enjoy the broad humor were those in the under-10 set. Not marketed as a play for children, “Mendel & Moses” could ramp up the silliness, cut many of its songs and offensive stereotypes, and perhaps find new life as a holiday show for children.
After all, there was something charming about a stern Moses dancing a duet with a befuddled Mendel. But the joke gets old for those of us who are well past our Barney years.
Mel Brooks gave us biblical parodies with as much sophistication as slapstick. “Mendel” gives us only the urge to shout “let my people go” by intermission.
“Mendel & Moses” is playing on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m., at the Century City Playhouse, 10508 Pico Blvd., in West Los Angeles. Tickets are $20 and $22. Call (888) 566-8499.
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