After the recent success of Bad Jews, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you won’t succeed in getting a show at St James Theatre if it doesn’t have the word “Jews” in the title, because now comes You Won’t Succeed on Broadway if You Don’t Have Any Jews. This compilation show is fresh from its own successful run in Tel Aviv, complete with a cast of 18 – most of whom are talented young triple threats (they sing, they dance, they act) – and featuring Jackie Marks, an original cast member of Les Mis and one of the first to play Fantine (the audience loved her singing ‘I Dreamed a Dream’). For those who follow The X Factor, it also features Lloyd Daniels, sixth season finalist and headliner on a sell-out X Factor tour.
Lionel Bart’s glorious musical is an extraordinary mixture of the dark and the life-enhancing. It’s as if he’s channelling Dickens in his words and music to retell the genuinely thrilling and affecting story of the young orphan’s adventures in the cruel world of 19th-century London.
See it as you’ve probably never seen it before, in an intimate space that brings you right into the workhouse and Fagin’s den, here wonderfully suggested by a veritable ceiling of handkerchiefs. Bart of course rises magnificently to the challenge of creating the character of Fagin, the “kind old gentleman” so intent on of giving street urchins a useful trade. And the Watermill’s Cameron Blakely magnificently rises to the challenge of both following in the tradition begun by the late, great Ron Moody and making Fagin his own. It’s fascinating to notice though, that in his (worryingly sympathetic) “Reviewing the Situation”, he does not use the Jewish “questioning” fall for the line, “So at my time of life I should start turning over new leaves?” I’m guessing it might be because he thinks that was Moody’s way with the line and he should not copy it, rather than a question built in by Bart. But go see for yourself – if you can beg, borrow or pick a pocket for a ticket!
By Judi Herman
To read more about this glorious production, its multi-talented cast and the joy of joining in with “Oom Pah Pah” see Judi Herman’s full review at Whatsonstage.com.
Oliver! runs until Saturday 19 September. 7.30pm & 2.30pm. £17.50-£30. The Watermill Theatre, Bagnor, RG20 8AE; 016 354 6044. www.watermill.org.uk
Because this funny, touching, rousing celebration of women and the relationships between the generations and the sexes through the memory filter of clothing is written by the Ephron sisters, it’s perhaps not surprising that there are vivid Jewish threads in its fabric. Ilene Beckerman, on whose memoir it is based, is personified with huge affection in the show as Gingy, whom we first meet in childhood, with her adoring Jewish mother (a lovely sketch from Rula Lenska). Together they evoke 1950s and ’60s childhoods with images of those poplin frocks with smocking bodices and tied with a bow at the back.
Many musicals have varied fortunes but Grand Hotel might have the longest history. It started in 1929 as a novel and then evolved into a play by Austrian-Jewish writer Vicki Baum as Menschen im Hotel (People in the Hotel), exploring the extraordinary stories of guests and staff over one weekend in the best hotel in Berlin. It then became an academy award winning film in 1932 and in 1958, fresh from the success of Kismet, Luther Davis (who authored the accompanying book), as well as George Forrest and Robert Wright (both on lyrics duty) relocated the setting to Rome for their musical version starring Paul Muni. It opened on the West Coast to mixed reviews, straying quite a way from the original storyline, but Muni was ill and the punters wanted to see a closer version of the film so everyone decided against a Broadway opening.
Years ago I made a radio feature in Jerusalem – it doesn’t matter what it was about. I wanted to weave a soundscape that evoked the troubled city. As I walked its streets recording, a muezzin chanted the Muslim call to prayer and church bells sounded. Through the windows of a yeshiva (Jewish religious school), which were open for the heat, I could see the boys with their side locks and hear them chanting dutifully after their bearded teacher; and all the while overhead a helicopter hovered, its roar providing an ominous background to these sounds of the divided City.
Just as, sadly, my soundscape has not dated, so Julia Pascal’s 2003 play, set during the Second Intifada, still provides a careful exploration of what life is like for men and women who live on different sides of Israel’s idealistic divide; Arab and Jewish Israelis, Muslims, Christians and Jews.
Although I’ve seen two terrific small-scale productions of Jerry Herman’s musical biopic, this is the first time there’s been a chance to see just how this love song to early movie pioneers would work on the big stage – and with enough money to throw at it to exploit the idea of actually making and showing “tribute” film footage. And before the lights went up, I realised there was another vital element of this great big show that was going to make all the difference – a big band with a wonderfully big brassy sound! So my feeling of well-being began with the overture. A trio of big, familiar numbers at the top of the show serves as a delicious reminder of Herman’s lush score – at the same time sophisticated, yet drawing on that evocative minor “Jewish” fall.