Airs June 11, 2016 on Dave’s Gone By. YouTube link: https://youtu.be/RghaoMma4aU
Shalom Dammit! This is Rabbi Sol Solomon with a Rabbinical Reflection for the week of June 12, 2016.
Lovers of the theater — and by that I mean geeks, shut-ins, homosexuals, and the desperate — rejoice! The time has come once again to celebrate Broadway — the talent and creativity that bring a bissel fun and sanity to this increasingly meshuggenah world. Huzzah for the Tony Awards.
Now, it is hard to deny that Broadway has become a playground for the rich, a parcel of real estate increasingly off limits to working people who just crave two hours of tits, tunes and tears. But remember: many places offer discount tickets and two-fers — trust me on this, I know from bargains. And even if those prices are beyond your purse, for three hours this Sunday night, you can sit in front of the TV and watch the dazzle of 42nd Street unfurl before your glazed, lower-middle-class eyeballs.
You can’t get into Hamilton? Alexander Hamilton couldn’t get into Hamilton. But Sunday, June 12th, you get a digital front-row seat to the cast of Hamilton doing a song . . . and then winning every Tony Award known to man. Actually, they won’t, they can’t. They have 16 nominations — a record! — but they have multiple nominees in some categories, and not every race is a shoo-in. So Mel Brooks’s The Producers will likely remain the all-time Tony Award winner. Ah, if only I’d bought 112 shares of that show. Quel dommage. But there are other reasons to watch the Tony Awards either in person at the Beacon Theater or on CBS, whose viewership is so old, they should be nicknamed The Yahrzeit Network.
Seriously, though, what I love to do most of all this time of year is look through the Tony nominations and find the Jews. There’s generally a batch of them, this being theater and all, and it’s a point of pride when my people are being recognized for their brilliance — and for briefly escaping Equity’s 95 percent unemployment rate.
First and foremost, let us exult that Fiddler on the Roof is back, and this time, they have a Jew playing Tevye! He’s Tony-nominated Danny Burstein, who starts off as a modern guy who comes onstage reading the stories of Sholem Aleichem. Then he takes the jacket off and turns into Tevye the milkman. This has confused some matinee audiences. I guess when you get to a certain age, it can be hard to make the mental leap of: no jacket, 1910 Russian village; yes jacket, 2016 Sears men’s department. How these audiences survive Tom Stoppard is beyond me.
By the way, in the lead-actor category, Danny Burstein is up against Zachary Levi for She Loves Me. Now, this truly is confusing because Levi has a Jewish name, but he’s a gentile. Worse, in recent interviews, the Welsh actor said he was turned down for parts in Hollywood movies because he looked too Jewish. Levi said, quote, “I guess they were looking for more of a corn-fed, white boy look. My family is from Indiana, come on!” I feel for you, Danny. It’s like that time I auditioned for the Carolina Chocolate Drops. I nailed it; sang like an angel. But did they call? Did they write? Not a word. And don’t even get me started on how I tried to get into the Celtic Women. Actually, I almost got into one, but she found out I was married.
Anyhoo, moving on to other Tony categories . . . where the hell are my people? Where are the Cohens and the Rothsteins and the Schiowitzes and the Bermans? This year gives us names like Brooks and Nyong’o and Pigott-Smith and the erotic-sounding Sengbloh. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for diversity. But it’s not so diverse if Jews are virtually absent.
Thank God, thanks to Hamilton, we do have a featured actor in a musical: Daveed Diggs. Yes, he’s a schvartz, but his parents gave him the Hebrew name for David because he’s half schvartz and half-Jewish. So I’d let him marry half my daughter. And speaking of halvsies, hooray for Sophie Okonedo, the celebrated British actress who already won a Tony for A Raisin in the Sun two seasons ago. Yes, she looks black, but there’s cholent under the chitlins! Okonedo’s mom is a Jewish Pilates teacher, and her parents were emigrants from Eastern Europe who spoke Yiddish! As Wikipedia notes, Okonedo’s father took a powder, and her single mom raised her in unavoidable poverty, but, says the actress, “We always had books.” If that isn’t Jewish, I don’t know what is. Well, a synagogue is Jewish; that kind of is. And Hebrew. And mezuzahs, but you know what I’m saying.
The wonderful lesson that we take from Daveed Diggs and Sophie Okonedo is that we can integrate, we can intermarry but not lose the spark of Yiddishkeit. We will no longer look the same or sound the same. And we will probably have better hair. But Jewish upbringing, connection, and belief need not go by the wayside, even if our people are far away from Bayside.
And so, on Tony night, when Lin-Manuel Miranda is giving his 32nd speech about inclusion, please remember that we are not as ex-cluded as it might first appear. Just look at the best-musical nominees: Hamilton, School of Rock, Shuffle Along, Waitress, and Bright Star. Hamilton deals with money, which Jews are always worried about; School of Rock concerns education, which is sacred to us; Shuffle Along is what every Jew over 70 does, and Waitress is what we all holler in a restaurant. As for Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s Bright Star, who’s to say it isn’t six-pointed?
This has been a Rabbinical Reflection from Rabbi Sol Solomon, Temple Sons of Bitches, in Great Neck, New York. On with the Tony show!
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