Three generations of performers will toast "the future of the Folksbiene" at a gala performance to benefit the only continuously-running Yiddish Theater in the United States. New York's Folksbiene Theatre ("the people's theatre") is in its 85th season, presenting main stage productions, play readings, and programs for young people and their families. The mission of co-artistic directors Eleanor Reissa and Zalman Mlotek includes training a new crop of Yiddish-language performers and serving as a resource for students of Yiddish and Jewish history and culture.
Headliners at the sold-out June 11 benefit include Mandy Patinkin, who recorded the Yiddish language CD "Mameloshen" (mother tongue) on Nonesuch Records in 1998; Bruce Adler, a member of the famous Jacobson-Adler acting clan whose non-Yiddish credits include four years in Crazy for You; and Mike Burstyn, a hugely popular Israeli talent known to New York audiences for his performances in Ain't Broadway Grand, Those Were the Days, and The Rothschilds. These gentlemen are joined by actress-singer Tovah Feldshuh, who created the title role in the Broadway production of Yentl and was recently seen in Tallulah Hallelujah and Tovah Cross-Ovah!
. Among those representing the golden age of Yiddish Theater are Mina Bern, Shifra Lerer and Seymour Rexite, who has been president of the Hebrew Actors Union for over twenty years. All three began as child performers. Rexite won his family passage from Poland by singing for Calvin Coolidge. Bern's career began in Eastern Europe and Lerer's in South America. Their work spans live theatre (both Yiddish and mainstream), records, radio and film, and such events as the introduction of sound to movies, the Holocaust, the creation of the state of Israel and the recent Klezmer revival.
Representing Yiddish Theater's present are the Folksbiene's co-artistic directors Eleanor Reissa and Zalman Mlotek, singer Adrienne Cooper and others. Reissa, a playwright/director/performer raised in a Yiddish speaking household in Brooklyn, has worked with leading talents in the Broadway, regional theater and Yiddish communities. She is the director of Those Were the Days and author of The Last Survivor and Zise Khaloymes (Sweet Dreams). Mlotek, an authority on Yiddish folk and theatre music, performs and teaches around the world. His New York based "New Yiddish Chorale" will be among the evening's performers. Adrienne Cooper, who performs the musical revue Ghetto Tango, with Mlotek at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue on May 18, is a featured singer with the klezmer band Kapelye.
The evening will include scenes and songs from recent productions including The Golden Land, Those Were the Days, Sweet Dreams, A Klezmer’s Tale, An American Family and the multi-generational Kids and Yiddish 2001 as well as a special performance, in Yiddish, of the "Modern Major General's" song from The Pirates of Penzance. Isaiah Sheffer, host of NPR's "Selected Shorts," is master of ceremonies. As a child, Sheffer appeared as "Happy" in Joseph Buloff's Yiddish version of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. Sheffer has also written libretto and lyrics for the musical The Rise of David Levinsky and adapted the classic film "Yidl mitn a Fidl" for the musical stage. The Folksbiene Theatre presents an annual season of plays, concerts, staged readings and children’s shows. This benefit performance will take place Monday, June 11 at 7:00 PM at Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street. Further information can be found at www.Folksbiene.org.
— by Amy Asch