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‘Lies My Father Told Me’

Folksbiene tries something new; restages old movie

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In ‘Lies My Father Told Me,’ writer Ted Allan relives his Montreal childhood.

The 99-year-old Folksbiene, under the executive direction of Bryna Wasserman, has been trying a lot of new things lately.

This season, its mainstage production is a musical version of the 1975 Academy Award-nominated film “Lies My Father Told Me.” It’s based on a memoir by Ted Allan about his youth in 1920s Montreal. Wasserman, who previously ran the Segal Centre for the Performing Arts in Montreal, introduced the musical there in 2005. Allan’s memories took many forms: first a short story, it was then a radio play, and later a play with music. A straight dramatic version ran at New York’s Jewish Repertory Theater in 1986.

The show at the Baruch Performing Arts Center crowds a huge set onto the relatively small stage and then introduces a cast of 17 — the largest the Folksbiene has ever employed — to tell the unsurprising story of little David, his beloved Zaida, and his perennial-failure father, Harry. While Zaida is loyal to the old ways of Torah and humble work — he’s a rag and bottle man — Harry is constantly scheming to make a fortune.

His inventions, such as a permanent crease in men’s pants, never quite work, but that doesn’t discourage him. As long as he can convince his father-in-law to give him seed money, he keeps going. While the loving and kind-hearted Zaida represents the traditional Jewish world, the mercurial and mean Harry symbolizes the materialism and narcissism of the new.

I think I’ve seen a lot of old Yiddish movies with the same plot. Regardless, the Jews who came to North America quickly got rid of their old ways and joyfully embraced the new. Unfortunately, that’s too nuanced a view for “Lies My Father Told Me,” even though the character of the adult David as narrator could have added some subtlety.

The 16 songs by Elan Kunin, all in English, are tuneful, though not particularly memorable, and show little humor except for one funny number, “Bankrupt.” David is played by the energetic Alex Dreier; Chuck Karel plays Zaida, the role performed by Theodore Bikel in Montreal. Both Dreier and Karel do a fine job (Karel has a beautiful baritone voice), and there’s a lot of talent on stage. This Montreal street has a resident prostitute, an anti-Semitic Irish neighbor, a bunch of kids, a lovable Communist, and others, but the script does not provide enough for them all to do. There are some enjoyable dance numbers, which feel cramped by the tiny space. A smaller, simpler set might have given the production a bit of breathing room. Zaida’s horse, Ferdeleh, is invisible but seems real enough; other characters might have existed in our imagination, too.

One odd choice comes in the second act, after David’s mother has given birth to another son. Until now the show has been strictly PG, but suddenly David announces he wants to nurse just as his baby brother is doing. This leads to a comical conversation with Zaida that feels weirdly out of place, as if we had suddenly been dropped into another show. That could be entirely a personal reaction, but some people might feel uncomfortable bringing young children.

“Lies My Father Told Me” is a deeply Jewish show, no matter the language it is performed in, and for theatergoers who enjoy nostalgic reminiscences, the musical should be satisfying. The world of Montreal Jewry does not seem all that different from the Lower East Side in the 1920s — a lot of people torn between the old and the new, young people adapting to a very different culture, and children finding fun wherever they are.

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There had to be a Jewish “Jersey Boy” — and there is. And he’s local!

Checking in with Lee Shapiro of the Four Seasons

When I think of Jersey, Brooklyn, and Long Island, I think Jewish and Italian — and I think about the frequent cultural intersections between these two groups.

Could it be that the famous singing group “The Four Seasons,” the subject of the hit Broadway musical “Jersey Boys” and the movie of the same name that opened last week — really had no Jewish members during its long history? Was it an entirely Italian-American group?

I thought it was until two weeks ago, when David Sachs, an editor at the Detroit Jewish News, clued me into Lee Shapiro, “the Jewish Season,” who played an important role in the mid-1970s revival of the fortunes of the band and its lead singer, Frankie Valli.

Mr. Sachs interviewed Mr. Shapiro in 2009, and I managed to catch up with Mr. Shapiro, who now lives in Hackensack, for a talk two weeks ago, just before he took the stage for a concert in Montana.


‘Klinghoffer’ the opera: Biased and banal

An opera about the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians might have been absolutely splendid. But one deep-seated defect of composer John Adams’s “The Death of Klinghoffer” is that he, along with librettist Alice Goodman, is biased against Israel.

Another defect: They are intellectual lightweights.

The opera has gotten loads of free publicity lately, thanks to the Metropolitan Opera’s decision not to broadcast the opera around the world come October but just to perform it on stage in Manhattan. A number of leaders of Jewish organizations — including Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League — had complained about the opera to Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, pointing out that it might inflame anti-Israel sentiments abroad and lead to anti-Jewish incidents.


Making music accessible — and viral

Six13 member celebrates singing, Jewish identity

What does it mean when a video goes viral?

It means wanting to introduce your children and grandchildren to a particularly delightful song only to find that they have already watched it — repeatedly.

Such was the case this year with the Passover parody “Chozen,” which this writer thought she was bringing to her family for the first time. In fact, it already was one of their favorites.

“That’s great,” said 22-year-old Franklin Lakes resident Josh Sauer, a member of the a capella group Six13, which made the musical video. “It means that our music is out there.”

Indeed it is. Mr. Sauer said the group — founded some 10 years ago at Binghamton University— has five gigs over the next two weekends.



Tzofim-Friendship Caravan




What’s next for Paul Shaffer?

David Letterman’s sidekick on his ‘dream job,’ Jewish upbringing

A Jewish upbringing taught Paul Shaffer, David Letterman’s musical director and sidekick for 32 years, the value of giving back.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Mr. Shaffer served as musical director for “The Concert for New York City,” and in 2012 he accompanied Adam Sandler in “12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief,” a fundraiser for Hurricane Sandy victims. He also was the national spokesperson for Epilepsy Canada.

“My mother taught by example,” Mr. Shaffer said. “She was a great supporter of Israel. She was a great supporter of local charities and gave her time to Hadassah, as well as to the ladies auxiliary at the hospital.

“Growing up, I watched this, so it just came natural to me. Getting involved in charities and fundraisers myself became a great opportunity for me to use my musical talents to do some good.”

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