New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

Ethnic Theater - Jewish

"The Adventures of Hershele Ostropolyer"
The National Yiddish Theatre--Folksbiene, Manhattan

Think Moliere. Think Dickens. Think Scrooge. Think Robin Hood. Think farce. Think Jewish humor. Think Broadway musicals. We are speaking of the current show of  The National Yiddish Theatre-Folksbiene- appropriately called “The Adventures of Hershele Ostropolyer,” The show is now making its debut at the Folksbiene’s new downtown Manhattan home at the Baruch Performing Arts Center.

This little gem of a musical is made to order for its star Mike Burstyn. A perfect fit, as they once said in “Fiddler on the Roof.” Burstyn (playing a roving penniless character who lives by his wits) sings, dances, and performs his way into our hearts.  He is backed by a fine cast, particularly notable being I. W. Firestone as the town miser. In fact, every one and everything in the show is a perfect fit---its cast, staging, direction, music, story.

Top-notch talents have come together to make this happen. Eleanor Reissa (performer, director, and former Artistic Director of the Folksbiene) has adapted, directed and choreographed the piece (based on a play by Moyshe Gershenson), while the company’s Artistic Director Zalmen Mlotek serves as musical director/vocal arranger.  The musical score itself (a compendium of Yiddish theatre and folk songs) is compiled by musicologist Chana Mlotek.

The story is indeed familiar to those who have followed classical theater down through the years. A boy and girl long to marry, but they need a certain ring. It was given to the would-be bride by her Bubbe long ago, but is now held by a rich, greedy miser. They have no money to retrieve the ring. But Hershele Ostropolyer appears on the scene—a thing of rags and tatters, one might say. The clever Hershele tricks the miser in a thousand ways—and ultimately all is well, as the miser reforms and the boy and girl  are joined in an elaborate wedding.

Along the way, the tale is peppered with haunting old Yiddish tunes, sprightly dances, and an array of characters that one might find in a shtetl. Under Reissa’s direction, there is never a false note. Roger Hanna’s simple set of abstract designs and levels works beautifully, as do Gail Cooper-Hecht’s costumes and Kiork Bookman’s lighting.

In all, a worthy effort by the Folksbiene. Now in its 95th year, the venerable company still upholds its standards and keeps Yiddish alive for us all.

--Irene Backalenick
June 4, 2010

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