This unique production, with archival film clips and theatrical staging, has been seen in other markets. Tilson Thomas will conduct and host. Broadway's Patricia Birch (Grease, A Little Night Music, Pacific Overtures), a five-time Tony Award nominee, directs.
Performances will play April 5-6 at 7:30 PM at Avery Fisher Hall. The multimedia evening, which also features Ronit Widmann-Levy and Eugene Brancoveanu, "celebrates Tilson Thomas' grandparents, Bessie and Boris Thomashefsky, by following the story of these European immigrants who played major roles in the development of American Yiddish theatre, a central part of life on Manhattan's Lower East Side at the beginning of the 20th century."
The Thomashefskys recreates the atmosphere of the time through music, costumes, and projections of film clips, archival photos, posters, and other memorabilia, according to NY Phil notes. Tilson Thomas and the four principal performers will share the stage with a 30-piece Philharmonic orchestra — the typical size of a pit orchestra of that era.
The material for the program, reconstructed by The Thomashefsky Project, presents audiences with "a musical sound that few have heard since the early 20th century."
Tilson Thomas (conductor and host) is music director of the San Francisco Symphony, artistic director of the New World Symphony, and principal guest conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra. In 1969, after winning the Koussevitzky Prize at Tanglewood, Tilson Thomas was appointed assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and made his New York debut with that orchestra the same year, gaining international recognition after replacing music director William Steinberg mid-concert. In l987, he created the New World Symphony, a post-graduate orchestral academy based in Miami Beach. According to NY Phil notes, "Boris and Bessie Thomashefsky were two Eastern European immigrants who produced and performed original plays and musicals and Yiddish adaptations of Shakespeare, Ibsen, Wagner, and Oscar Wilde. Their productions gave rise to new forms of theatrical expression that stretched from the Lower East Side to Broadway and Hollywood. Musically, one can hear the echoes of Eastern European cantorial, klezmer, operetta, and village folk tunes as they blend with new American sounds. Michael Tilson Thomas spent seven years spearheading the Thomashefsky Project, which has unearthed about 1,000 documents relating to his grandparents' careers."
Blazer began her career as a young singer in opera, oratorio, and recital in New York City and throughout Italy. She moved into Broadway theatre with leading roles in Me and My Girl, A Change in the Heir, Titanic, Neil Simon's 45 Seconds from Broadway and most recently, LoveMusik, directed by Harold Prince.
Hensley earned Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, Olivier, and Theatre World Awards for his performance as Jud Fry in the internationally acclaimed revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! He made his Broadway debut as Javert in the long-running musical Les Misérables. He also co-starred as Kerchak, head of the Gorilla Tribe, in Disney's Tarzan, and starred Off-Broadway in The Great American Trailer Park Musical. Most recently, he starred on Broadway as The Monster in the Mel Brooks-Thomas Meehan musical Young Frankenstein and in the world premiere of Paradise Found, directed by Harold Prince and Susan Stroman, in London.
For tickets and information, visit nyphil.org or call (212) 875-5656.
A related event, Funny, It Doesn't Sound Jewish, based on the book of the same name by Jack Gottlieb, will be presented 6:30 PM March 30, featuring Michael Barrett (speaker and piano) with singers Judy Blazer and Joshua Breitzer.
This "lecture-entertainment, performed at the piano, will focus on the Jewish influence on American popular music and is a tribute to the late Gottlieb." It will play at the Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, Rose Building, 65th Street at Amsterdam Avenue. Tickets are $20.