By ALAN SMASON, Theatre Critic, WYES-TV (“Steppin’ Out“)
Until 2015 the Yiddish operetta “Di Goldene Kale” (“The Golden Bride”) composed by Joseph Rumshinsky had not been performed on stage for seven decades. That was when the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbeine at New York’s Museum of Jewish Heritage brought back its carefully reconstructed production to select audiences at the museum’s newly revamped third floor theater. This followed two concert presentations – the first with piano accompaniment and the second with orchestra and chorus – both of which gleaned positive response.
Following its successful run last season, the theatre company decided to reassemble as many of the previous cast members for another run of the work shown with supertitles in both English and Russian. To their delight and to the delight of audiences since July 10, most of the original 2015 cast has returned to the stage to once again breathe fresh life into this masterpiece of Yiddish theatre.
Premiered in 1923, Rumshinksy composed the sumptuous and rich melodies and paired them with the Yiddish lyrics written by Louis Gilrod. The first act, set in Russia, introduces the audience to the Russian characters in their natural shtetl setting as a number of rich Americans visit. In the second act all of the characters are implausibly transported to America a year later for the resolution of the storyline, which involves a courtship, a search for a missing mother and some comical relief in between.
Returning from the previous production last winter were its two stars – Cameron Johnson as Misha and Rachel Policar as Goldele. Both in their twenties, the two offer sumptuous vocals during their courtship which are first expressed in Act One’s “Mayn Goldele” (“My Goldele”) and near the finale in “Zise Derinerung” (“Sweet Memory”). Johnson’s rich tenor and his handsome manner are a perfect compliment to Policar’s expressive soprano role and comeliness.
Fresh off her run as the alternate for Christine Daae in Broadway’s “Phantom of the Opera” was Rachel Zatcoff (Khanale), whose velvety soprano’s notes hung high in the air during her work, especially with Glenn Seven Allen’s role as Jerome. Their duet of “”Mir Aenen Aktyorn” (“We Are Actors”) was especially moving and the familiar borrowing of George M. Cohan’s patriotic melody is evident in “Over Ther” (“Over There”), which they sing together in Act One.
Co-directors Bryna Wasserman and Motl Didner assembled a fantastic set of actors who could handle the comedic aspects of the work including standout Adam B. Shapiro as Kalmen, a man who adapts quite well from a huckster in Russia to a capitalist in America.
Joining him on stage were Bob Ader (Benjamin) and Bruce Rebold as Pinchas along with other female notables Regina Gibson (Sheyndl) and Lisa Fishman (Toybe).
Also, three tradesmen – a cobbler, a tailor and a cantor – all seeking the hand of the rich Goldele – Alex Bird (Berke), Michael Einav (Motke) and Cody Hernandez (Yankl) – take up the cause of finding her missing mother. To the relief of her love Misha, the three seem more like the Three Stooges than three genuine suitors.
One of the most haunting of Rumshinky’s melodies is “Kidush” (“Kiddush”), the closing number in Act One . It is about as close to a representation of what Shabbat meant to the immigrant Jews of the time as can possibly be found today. The chorus work is quite good and the conductor and music director Zalmen Mlotek uses his baton quite effectively in bringing back these historic pieces with his 14-piece orchestra.
Merete Muenter did a great job as choreographer, especially considering the large number of players on what is a fairly small stage with little wing space. Paying close attention to details in sketches gleaned from historical research, designer Izzy Fields created marvelous costumes that complimented the set design by John Dinning.
The painstaking process of reassembling the libretto and music from the research materials by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbeine may have been a somewhat limiting factor in bringing the project together. In many cases best guesses were employed by those who found missing passages and some notes were rewritten that seemed flat or out of place. But the work is largely the way it was first seen by audiences nearly a century ago.
Interestingly, Freida Freiman gets credit for the work now, although her husband Louis was first listed as the librettist, probably due to fears of a backlash against a woman writer. The operetta’s rather simplistic, naîve and unlikely libretto, though, is more problematic for modern audiences than it was at its premiere. Most target audience members were almost all recently immigrated from Europe and most likely indifferent to expecting more than such simple fare.
“Di Goldene Kale” (“The Golden Bride”) continues at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, 33 Battery Park Place in New York, Sundays through Thursdays until August 28. (No shows on August 14, 16 and 23). Tickets are $40.00 with discounts for museum members and groups. Tickets also entitle the bearer to a tour of the exhibits. For ticket information call 646-437-4202.