Reviewed by Sandi Durell
The National Yiddish Theatre makes a pointed effort at keeping Jewish history alive – – the traditions, the songs, the magic in a variety of theatrical productions in this the 98th season of the Folksbiene. “The Golden Land” is a heart-warming, albeit sometimes difficult musical depicting the struggle of Jewish immigrants to America dating back to the 1880s thru 1910 and again before and after World War II. I say difficult, because there was and is so much sadness that is part of Jewish heritage of a group of people blessed and chosen to face on-going bigotry.
The musical is performed in both Yiddish and English utilizing various musical pieces written during different time frames. “Mir Forn Kayn Amerike” (We’re Going to America, Goodbye Mother Russia), “Oy, I Like Him,” “Motl Der Opereyter (Motl The Operator), “Rebel Girl.” Folksongs “A Khulem” (A Dream), some more well-known, i.e. “Brother Can You Spare a Dime” or “Rumania, Rumania.”
The story is the on-going struggle of Jewish immigrants and the Jewish people making their way into the American culture yet holding on to their own traditions, battling bigotry. There are references to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire of 1911 and the loss of so many young Jewish girls; overcoming the horror and loss of loved ones during the Holocaust, the desperate times of war, the brutality of the German occupation in Eastern Europe, but a people always moving ahead, surviving and rising in celebration.
The cast is a lively group of Yiddish theatre actors including Bob Ader, Cooper Grodin, Stacey Harris, Andrew Keltz, Daniella Rabbani and Sandy Rosenberg – each outstanding. The production is filled with warmth, good choreographic movement by Deanna Dys and makes the 120 minutes (with intermission) an enjoyable experience.
There is also the band conducted by Zalmen Mlotek (also on piano) who also wrote several of the English lyrics to several of the songs; Taylor Bergren-Chrisman on bass; John Carlson on trumpet; Rima Fand on violin; Daniel Linden on trombone; Dmitri “Zisl” Slepovich on clarinet/piccolo/alto sax/flute; Matt Temkin on drums/percussion.
“Golden Land” is created by Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld, directed by Bryna Wasserman with costumes by Natasha Landau and set design by Roger Hanna. This production is an updated revival of the original 1985 off Broadway production.
The one noticeable deficit: an audience that would include our younger generation (Jewish or not) to see, hear and better understand this important history of a people.
“Golden Land” continues at Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Ave.NYC