Aired June 9, on Dave’s Gone By. Youtube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9SvBP6aCB8o
Shalom Dammit! This is Rabbi Sol Solomon with a special Rabbinical Reflection on the 2012 Tony Awards.
You know, I look at the 2011-2012 Broadway season, its mix of classic revivals, ultra-modern musical imagery, fabulous roles for strong women, the return of Disney, intelligent and socially conscious new plays – what an array! And yet, I can’t help thinking . . . what’s with all the goyim?
I mean, of course, there are Jews everywhere; this is Broadway. Without Jews and faigeles, West 45th Street would just be Starbucks, Duane Reade, McDonalds, a bigger Starbucks, a pretzel stand and a third Starbucks on the corner. And you’ll see Jewish names connected to a host of Tony nominations, from the Gershwins and Sondheim to actors Danny Burstein and Judy Kaye and Lifetime Achievement winner Manny Azenberg. He should win a special Tony just because he never changed his name to Manfred Azalia III.
So it’s not as if this a Jew-free jubilee. Still, I’m seeing way too much Jesus this particular Broadway season. First of all there’s Jesus Christ Superstar, with all the Jews going, `Crucify him, crucify him, crucify him.’ I appreciate the sentiment, but it’s not my idea of entertainment. And as if one Jesus Christ musical weren’t enough, there’s also a revival of Godspell, written by a Jew, no less. Whatsamatter, Stephen Schwartz? Moses not good enough for ya? Abraham? Isaac? The prophet Zephaniah? Use a little imagination. I realize Andrew Lloyd Webber already took Joseph, and you can’t do Sampson and Delilah because there’s already a musical called “Hair,” but still . . .
Other faiths are well represented on Broadway: Sister Act has nuns, The Book of Mormon has Latter Day Saints, Leap of Faith had evangelicals, Wicked has witches. So why are we left out? Where’s the marquee that reads, “Now Playing: `Pushy Complainers’?”
Where are the Jewish in this year’s Tony-nominated shows, hah? You won’t find `em in Once, about an Irish folksinger and a Czechoslovakian. It’s got that big song “Falling Slowly.” (sings) “Falling slowly, falling slowly” – Jews don’t fall slowly; we fall straight down and break a hip.
There’s Newsies, the Disney show about striking newspaper boys. You’d think a musical about New York unions would be full of socialist Yids. But no. They have one major character, Davey, who’s so obviously Jewish, they might as well put him in a fur hat and call him Shichmichail. He’s thoughtful, he’s intelligent, he’s passive-aggressive and something of a pussy. But do they mention his religion at all? No, all traces of Eastern Europe have been magically erased from this secondary role.
Same thing in Death of a Salesman! Arthur Miller – Jew. Director Mike Nichols – Jew. Willy Loman – ehhhh.. nondescript American. Unspecified racial heritage. You know, Dustin Hoffman may not have been the best Broadway Loman, but at least his Willy had a circumcised willie. And what about the next door neighbors: Charley and his son Bernard. No religious affiliation? No menorah in the back window even? Bernard is a friggin’ lawyer! Broadway, what are you hiding? Let Jews be Jews.
Where are the Jews in the other shows? You got the musical Lysistrata Jones which is all about great athletes. Obviously, no Jews there. Evita,about Argentinians – and we all know who moved there after the war. Frank Wildhorn, a landsman, he wrote a musical, Bonnie and Clyde. Okay, we don’t want them to be Jewish. But One Man, Two Guvnors? I’d rather see “Two Jews, Four Opinions.”
Oh sure, Jews are alluded to in other shows. Venus in Fur – anything with fur, you’re basically talking my people. Porgy and Bess has a character called “Crown,” which reminds us of all the fine Jewish dentists. Stick Fly, which is pretty much what a mohel does. And lest we forget, Spider-Man, which took eight months to open. Kind of like a Jewish girl’s legs.
I’m not saying every show has to be Fiddler on the Roof or The Zulu and the Zayde, but let’s not forget, or forghettoize, the tribe of people without whom Broadway could hardly exist in its present form. Apart from the hilariously dysfunctional Jewish family in The Lyons, overtly Jewish characters are strangely and sadly absent from this season’s Broadway contenders.
Of course, off-Broadway, I did my own show, Shalom Dammit! An Evening with Rabbi Sol Solomon, which is hilarious and brilliant and coming back to New York in August. For more information, visit shalomdammit.com. And there’s currently a show in New York called “Old Jews Telling Jokes.” I think that’s wonderful. I just hope it doesn’t move to Broadway and star Mel Gibson, John Galliano, Louis Farrakhan and Spike Lee.
Anyway, I would like to close my little benediction by congratulating not just the Tony nominees but all the fine people who do great work on and off-Broadway, whether recognized or not. Maybe a kindly usher, a stage manager who can be a zillion places at once, a conductor with magnificent finesse. They all contribute to that moment when the curtain parts and steals our hearts. Bravo and mazel tov.
This has been a theatrical Rabbinical Reflection from Rabbi Sol Solomon, Temple Sons of Bitches in Great Neck, New York.
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