Airs June 9, 2018 on Dave’s Gone By. Youtube: https://youtu.be/QIP-56ZFO50
Shalom, Dammit! This is Rabbi Sol Solomon with a Rabbinical Reflection for the week of June 10, 2018.
Being Jewish, I don’t know a lot of guys named Tony, but I do know and love one Tony: The Tony Awards! They happen every June, and they celebrate excellence, artistry, and producers’ amazing ability to congratulate their own good taste and wealth. If you love Broadway, ya gotta love the Tonys: the one award ceremony per year that isn’t devoted to horrible country music.
Of course, being a Rabbi, I have my own thoughts on the Tony nominations, which I share each year in a special theatrical Rabbinical Reflection. Basically, I look at all the categories and try to find the Jews. For example, this season’s nominees for Best Play are unbelievably goyish. There’s Junk, written by an Arab; Latin History for Morons, written and performed by the Hispanic John Leguizamo; there’s Harry Potter, which has a black Hermione and a WASPy everyone else; and a drama called The Children, which deals with the aftermath of a holocaust. Don’t get your hopes up. It’s a nuclear holocaust—not the other one.
Jews have better luck with the Best Revival category. Yes, there’s Eugene O’Neill and Edward Albee, but there’s also the half-Jew Kenneth Lonergan and his play, Lobby Hero, which is all about a nebbishy security guard. That character isn’t explicitly Jewish but…come on. Come on! Also in the Revival category, you got Tom Stoppard. A lot of people don’t realize he’s a Yid whose family fled Czechoslovakia during the Nazi occupation. People also might not know that Stoppard’s 1974 comedy, Travesties, deals with two Jews: performance artist Tristan Tzara, and Vladimir Lenin, whose mother was of hidden Jewish ancestry. In fact, there are a lot of things we don’t know about Travesties because no one can understand the fucking thing. But it seems really funny.
And then there’s the elephant in the room—the circumcised, payes-wearing elephant—Tony Kushner and Angels in America. This play starts with a rabbi and goes downhill from there. Seriously, Angels is widely considered a modern classic: the most important play of the latter 20th century—with the possible exception of my own Shalom, Dammit!. (But mine is a musical, so I understand the nominators’ confusion.) My sole quibble with Angels in America is that its focus is on three Jews, and they’re all wretched. Louis is a gay New Yorker sleeping with a shaygitz who gets AIDS, and the symptoms are so horrible, Louis can’t take it. He dumps the boyfriend and starts banging a Mormon. This leaves him with tremendous guilt, which is the one thing a heterosexual Jew can relate to in this play. Meanwhile, the other big Jew is Roy Cohn, the hateful, closeted son-of-a-bitch who helped Joseph McCarthy destroy suspected communists. Among them: the third character, Ethel Rosenberg. She and her husband Julius went to the electric chair for treason for funneling secret documents to the Russian government. Obviously, this was before colluding with Russia became something that got you elected president. All told, as a multi-dimensional drama, Angels in America is major. As a show to bring a group from the Hadassah…I’ll stick with Perfect Crime.
Now, before we get too depressing, let us note that all three Tony nominated musical revivals have Jewish DNA. Carousel: by yidlach Richard Rodgers and half-Jewish Oscar Hammerstein II; My Fair Lady by yidlach Alan Jay Lerner and half-Jewish Frederick Loewe; and Once on this Island, by yidlach Lynn Ahrens and an Irish guy. Strangely enough, all three musicals tell of incandescent women suffering at the hands of asshole men—which is why I’m not taking my wife to any of them.
I am dismayed by the paucity of Jews in the lead acting categories. Andrew Garfield stars in Angels in America, and Amy Schumer made the critics laugh in Meteor Shower, but don’t be fooled! Lauren Ridloff, of Children of a Lesser God, has a Jewish name, but I’m pretty sure she’s a schvartze; and Jessie Mueller looks Jewish but she’s Lutheran. Worse, Josh Groban, who co-hosts this year’s Tonys with Sara Bareilles, had a Jewish father who converted to marry his Christian mother. Everyone assumes Groban is a Yid because of the beard and old footage of him playing Tevye in high school, but he’s as goyish as pulled pork on a Triscuit. People are so worried about fake news; we should worry about fake Jews!
But I kid, because one of the new musicals up for a Tony, and the one most likely to win, is a minyan unto itself. Of course, I am talking about The Band’s Visit, an off-Broadway smash that is wowing them uptown at the Barrymore Theater. It’s written playwright Itamar Moses, whose parents are Israeli, and scored by David Yazbek, who comes from a Lebanese dad and a Jewish mama. More importantly, the musical tells of an Egyptian police band accidentally stuck in a nowhere, hick town in Israel. Is there fear, mistrust, miscommunication? A bit, but there’s also music, empathy, helping, romance, niceness, clever lyrics, lovely music—what’s not to enjoy? The Jews in The Band’s Visit aren’t perfect; in fact, they’re gruff and neurotic compared to the decorous Egyptians, but everyone’s human, everyone’s making the best of a weird situation, no one talks politics, no one wants to talk politics, and by the end, everyone’s a little bit better off through the commingling of cultures. I know I was. Except when I had to explain to my dear wife Miriam Libby why I had to cover my lap with my Playbill every time Katrina Lenk walked onstage. My God, that woman could melt hummus. Was the musical worth sleeping on my couch for three days? Damn right it was. And I will be rooting for The Band’s Visit to win many Tony Awards on Sunday, June 10th, at Radio City’s Hall of Music.
Win or lose, I congratulate all nominees of all de-nominations, and wish for a wonderful night of glamour, showtunes, and chorus boys who don’t have to worry about Kevin Spacey buggering them in the lounge. There’s nothing like live theater and nothing bigger than Broadway. It’s like eating deli; even when the sandwich is mediocre, it’s still deli! And I am hungry for a Broadway feast.
This has been a Rabbinical Reflection from Rabbi Sol Solomon, Temple Sons of Bitches, in Great Neck, New York. Curtain up!
(c) 2018 TotalTheater. All rights reserved.