In 1962, 19-year-old Barbra Streisand wowed audiences and critics alike in her Tony-nominated Broadway debut as Miss Marmelstein in the musical I Can Get It for You Wholesale. Streisand's career would soon skyrocket with the release of her first studio album in 1963 and her second Tony-nominated performance in Funny Girl in 1964. However, I Can Get It for You Wholesale would almost disappear into a category of "lesser-known works."
However, the musical, featuring a score by Harold Rome and a book by Jerome Weidman, is currently enjoying its first major New York revival at Off-Broadway's Classic Stage Company, running through December 17. Tony-nominated book writer John Weidman, son of Jerome, has revised the book, based on his father's novel of the same name. But the show tune that made Streisand a Broadway name remains, sung by CSC's new Miss Marmelstein. Similar to Streisand, Lester garnered a Tony nomination for her Broadway debut—last season's Into the Woods.
Lester says that "as a young Jewish woman of the the-a-tah," she has always been influenced and inspired by Streisand. "She's an icon," says Lester. "But I also, during this whole process, have felt extremely encouraged to make this part my own."
Set in 1937 in New York City's Garment District, I Can Get It for You Wholesale follows Bronx-born shipping clerk Harry Bogen (played by Santino Fontana), who must choose between the comfort of community and his own ambitious dreams. Miss Marmelstein is the overworked secretary with her own comedy number about not having a nickname, a reflection of her desire to be seen as a whole person. See Lester perform "Miss Marmelstein" (accompanied by Wholesale cast members Jennifer Babiak, Billy Cohen, and John Plumpis) in the video above.
Despite the comedy number, the show really is a little darker. Bogen is not a hero. He's not even really an antihero. He's just not a good guy. Miss Marmelstein remains loyal to Harry Bogen long after his partners have discovered his overspending and theft. "She doesn't have many options in their life, especially as a young Jewish woman. She has been put in the best case scenario being a secretary. You know, she went to college—she went to CCNY for for English. She has sort of accomplished things that were not really of the time, especially as a woman, and being Jewish. So I think that her loyalty really comes from the sheer fact that she is invisible to the world without her job," says Lester.
The musical is steeped in Jewishness—in its story, its characters, and its sounds. Family and community are paramount themes. And working on the show has been particularly special for Lester in that aspect. "It's been so rewarding being in a room with so many Jewish people and sharing that sort of bond and culture with each other. And teaching some of our non-Jewish friends about traditions in our culture and heritage," she says. "It's really beautiful to get to be fully, unapologetically myself in that room."
See photos from Playbill's exclusive shoot with Lester. This shoot was conducted at Alchemical Studios.