New York City's Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre is currently staging a revival of the musical Songs of Paradise, with songs and fables in Yiddish. In a couple of months, like so many Jewish things, the musical will relocate to Florida. But there'll be a difference: the Florida version will be translated entirely into English.
Said Jim Reams, production spokesperson for the Caldwell Theatre Company, which will sing Songs April 7-May 19, 2002, "We're doing the world premiere of the English-language version. Avi Hoffman has translated the whole thing, and he'll direct. He and our artistic director, Michael Hall, will cast it. That's not to say he won't bring someone who's done it before, but it will be our own separate production."
The New York mounting, which opened Nov. 8 and runs Oct. 31-Dec. 23, features a five-person ensemble who play multiple roles. The authors are Miriam Hoffman and Rena Borow (book) and Rosalie Gerut (songs, adapting the lyrics of poetry by Itsik Manger). The tuner adapts such biblical tales as Adam and Eve, Joseph and his brothers, and the Jacob-Rachel marriage deal into the Purimshpiel tradition of Eastern European travelling Yiddish performing troupes.
So nu, why English? Says spokespersons Reams, "We do new stuff. We did Laramie and Beauty Queen last year. To do a Yiddish musical just wouldn't be right for us. We'd probably do well financially but might alienate some of the crowd. Making the show in English just makes it a lot more accessible to everybody."
Asked for his thoughts about an all-English version of the show, Beck Lee, publicist for the New York production, told Playbill On-Line, "It's a way of further mainstreaming the piece, which is sort of a Jewish Godspell. I bet it will do very well. It's a sunny, bright, satirical piece — in any language." For tickets and information on Songs of Paradise: A "Newish" Musical at the Caldwell Theatre, 7873 North Federal Highway in Boca Raton, call (561) 241-7432.
As for the Off-Broadway staging, according to a MediaBlitz spokesperson, the production team includes director Hoffman, who was nominated for the Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for his solo show Too Jewish? and who appeared in the original Off-Broadway staging of Paradise in 1989. Hoffman has made clear in Too Jewish and Too Jewish, Two, that poet Manger is a personal favorite and strong influence on his own work.
Folksbiene artistic directors Zalmen Mlotek and Eleanor Reissa (another veteran of the original Paradise cast) are the musical director and choreographer, respectively. Starring are Theresa Tova, Spencer Chandler, Jake Ehrenreich, Lia Koch, Yelena Shmulenson-Rickman.
Performances are at Theatre Four, 424 W. 55th St. For tickets ($35-$40) and information call (212) 239 6200.
Founded in 1915, the Folksbiene is the oldest continuously-running Yiddish theatre in America. By the late 1930s, the company kept several plays in repertory, according to spokespersons at MediaBlitz. A few years ago, Eleanor Reissa and Zalmen Mlotek took over as co-directors from Zypora Spaisman, hoping to broaden and bring younger people to the theatre's plays and audience. Spaisman went on to found the Yiddish Public Theatre last year, which produced a revival of Grine Felde ("Green Fields").
— David Lefkowitz
and Diane Snyder