Ethnic Theater - Jewish
"The Jerusalem Syndrome"
37 Arts, Manhattan
Can they make a musical comedy out of mental illness? Apparently so. “The Jerusalem Syndrome” proves the point. The new show, currently playing at 37 Arts, is a glowing addition to the current New York Musical Theatre Festival, turning medical crises into sheer entertainment.
What’s it all about? The show, it turns out, is based on facts. It seems that in the 1960’s Israeli psychologists discovered a new phenomenon. They began to document some 200 cases yearly of Westerners traveling to Israel who suffered mental breakdowns. These afflicted souls became Biblical characters—or so they thought! The Jewish tourists tended to think they were Moses, Abraham and the like, while Christians became Mary, Jesus and John the Baptist. While some recovered quickly, experiencing only embarrassment on recollecting their behavior, others, alas, remained mentally impaired for life.
“The Jerusalem Sundrome” focuses on the former group, which does recover. In this best of all theatrical worlds, their experiences prove positive. Young people find their true loves, uptight characters become more human, insecure individuals gain confidence. And, to our delight, they all live happily ever after.
And along the way, we all have a very good time with story and song. Kyle Rosen’s tunes are charming, and the Laurence Holzman/Felicia Needleman team has written brilliant lyrics. Their rapid rhymes and patter call to mind a modern-day version of Gilbert & Sullivan. Our favorites are “The Jerusalem Syndrome” and “Is It Crazy?” both rendered rapidly and impeccably by Bruce Sabath.
The production itself is equal to the challenge, and director Annette Jolles keeps it moving at a brisk pace. Lorin Latarro’s fine choreography and Sariva Goetz’s musical direction and orchestration all fall into place. The strong opening number, “El Al Flight,” sets the tone, and “The Jerusalem Syndrome” never lets up. It is a solid cast, with particularly appealing performances from Liz Larsen (Phyllis/Sarah), Nick Verina (Eddie/Moses), Chandra Lee Schwartz (Rena), and Bruce Sabath (Dr. Ben Zion).
The Musical Theatre Festival ends shortly, but one hopes that “The Jerusalem Syndrome” continues to delight audiences in further productions around the country and around the world.
-- Irene Backalenick
Sept. 24, 2008