Ahead of its run at Upstairs at the Gatehouse in Highgate, Daniel Donskoy performed A Song Goes Round the World – his show of European chansons – for the residents of Selig Court. Many of those who live in these independent living apartments on Jewish Care’s Maurice and Vivienne Wohl Campus are survivors of Nazi persecution. Donskoy sings in many languages, including Yiddish, to bring people together in a fractured Europe. Judi Herman was there to meet Donskoy and the residents, to hear their stories – and of course Donskoy’s glorious vocals, accompanied by MD Inga Davis-Rutter on piano.
A Song Goes Round the World runs Tuesday 25 – Sunday 30 April. 7.30pm, 4pm (Sun only). £18, £16 concs. Upstairs at the Gatehouse, N6 4BD. 020 8340 3488. www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com
Pamela Howard’s costume designs from Charlotte – A Tri-Coloured Play with Music for Paulinka Bimbam, the fictional name Salomon gave her opera singer stepmother in Life? Or Theatre?
Yesterday, Sunday 16 April, marked Charlotte Salomon’s centenary. I find myself imagining what the trajectory of her life – and art – might have been had she survived the Holocaust. Would she have rebuilt her life and perhaps settled in Amsterdam, where her parents had taken refuge during the war, and raised a family with her husband, fellow refugee Alexander Nagler? Would she have gone on to become a well-known artist and perhaps a grandmother and great-grandmother, founding a dynasty of artists? Perhaps she would now be celebrating her centenary. Her stepmother, the renowned mezzo soprano Paula Salomon-Lindberg, lived to celebrate hers, dying at the age of 102 in the year 2000.
New Yorkers Abe Burrows (Borowitz), Willie Gilbert (Gomberg) and Jack Weinstock did not invent the title of their 1961 musical satire on big business. It’s actually based on this best-selling lampoon of contemporary office life in 1950s USA, disguised as a self-improvement handbook. Clutching the book he consults on every step of the corporate ladder he climbs from window cleaner to chairman of the board, their anti-hero J Pierrepont Finch really lives up to the book’s subtitle, “The dastard’s guide to fame and fortune”. Burrows had worked with Frank Loesser on Guys and Dolls and the marriage of witty, amoral book with jaunty music and slick lyrics ensured the show’s award-winning success.
Families – can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em. Matriarch Yetta Solomon has no intention of allowing a single member of her family to escape from Solomon Rubber. Craig’s title is clever – rubber is self-evidently a filthy business. You can almost smell the huge bales and coils of the stuff looming from every shelf downstairs and off every table upstairs on Ashley Martin-Davis’s towering two-tier shop set. Yetta is not afraid of playing dirty either, from reeling in a reluctant phone customer with the promise of “a special one-time-only deal” (actually almost double the asking price) to micro-managing a Machiavellian insurance scam, with violence thrown in that almost makes this feel like Yiddishe (as against Scandi) noir.
Set in the detention room of a Vichy police station in 1942, Miller’s drama explores the ways paranoia among those detained by the Nazis could descend so easily into guilt and fear, making it all too easy for the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Ten men wait to be called. At first, the strained and nervous discussion is about why they might be there (a random pick up, routine check on their papers), but it soon emerges that some (or most) are Jews who have fled German-occupied northern France for the southern, ‘unoccupied’ Free Zone.
Some years back, I interviewed Rabbi Jonathan Black for radio, making a cameo appearance in EastEnders conducting a Jewish wedding. Not already a viewer, I duly researched by watching an omnibus edition and learned how you ‘gotta talk’. Jewish (non-Orthodox) playwright Stewart Permutt did his research by consulting a Charedi friend. So there’s a real authenticity about his protagonist Gideon – what brands of bread and crisps he can eat (Kingsmill and Walkers) and what he cannot drink from (glass).
First it was a play, then a film and now Calendar Girls has been made into a musical – already nominated for several Olivier Awards – with book and lyrics by Tim Firth, who wrote the play and co-wrote the film script (with Juliette Towhidi), and music by Gary Barlow.
The Girls tells the true story of members of a Yorkshire branch of the Women’s Institute who had the idea of posing for a nude calendar to raise money for Leukaemia Research, when the husband of one of the girls became ill and died from the disease.
As all the girls of the title are nominated jointly for an Olivier Award, Judi Herman spoke to Debbie Chazen, who has the distinction of being the only Jewish ‘girl’, as well as the only one who appeared in the original stage play.
Photo by Matt Crockett, Dewynters
The Girls runs until Saturday 15 July. 7.30pm (Tue-Sat), 2.30pm (Thu & Sat, plus Tue from 25 Apr). £29.50-£69.50. Phoenix Theatre, WC2H 0JP. 0844 871 7627. www.phoenixtheatrelondon.co.uk
It’s Dora Reisser’s ability to reinvent herself – from child refugee to prima ballerina, actor, screen star and fashion designer – and in such nail-biting circumstances, that makes her memoir, Dora’s Story, so gripping. Judi Herman visited Reisser at her remarkable London home (it used to be a railway station) to hear more of the stories behind her book, which begins with the little-known history of how Bulgaria’s Jews survived the Holocaust; and about her life in the UK and Israel, including an eye-opening account of how she started her Reisser fashion house – just one of the many new stories Reisser has that could fill a sequel.
There was a terrific compilation movie that took the title of much-loved song That’s Entertainment (written by Jewish duo Arthur Schwartz and Howard Dietz for the MGM film The Band Wagon) to celebrate the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio’s prodigious output; celebrating songs by Jewish composers and lyricists written for films produced by a studio founded and run by the eponymous Jewish entertainment moguls. Producer Katy Lipson proves her love and knowledge of “the magic of the musical” by touring her show The MGM Story this February. So in a way That’s Jewish Entertainment is a given, but there’s still so much to discover and enjoy as four talented performers and a four-strong band give their all to entertaining Yiddish style and tracing the trajectory of Jewish entertainment from shtetl to showbiz.
Following a visit to Auschwitz in 2012, Sira Soetendorp felt a deep need to preserve the memory of all the lost family members. The Dutch artist used carved outlines drawn in oil paint to fashion portraits based on family photographs, which make up her exhibition Vanished Families. Here she discusses the exhibit with JR’s Arts Editor Judi Herman, plus you will hear Rabbi Awraham Soetendorp, Sira’s husband and Emeritus Rabbi of the Hague, who is an award-winning human rights advocate.
Vanished Families runs until Monday 27 February at Etz Chayim Gallery, Northwood & Pinner Liberal Synagogue, HA6 3AA. 019 2382 2592. Viewing by appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org. www.npls.org.uk/etzchayim.htm