Part cabaret, part stand-up, and part autobiographical monologue, Jake Ehrenreich's one-man musical comedy A Jew Grows In Brooklyn pays tribute to the Borscht Belt bands and tummlers from whom the actor-comedian-musican — now fiftyish ,but buoyantly youthful — learned the trade he plies so well.
With comic timing like Jackie Mason, a flat-out beautiful singing voice, and a c.v. ranging from Broadway to rock bands to touring as Ringo in Beatlemania, Ehrenreich is the ideal crossover character — both an exemplar of the now-vanished Catskills scene and an assimilated Jew as creator (and performer) of pop culture.
Ehrenreich grew up in the heart of Brooklyn, the child of immigrant Holocaust survivors. The story of his boyhood and youth, especially the all-important summertime Catskills escape, along with a coda about marriage and fatherhood make up the show's storyline and its heart. It's a little like watching someone's home movies, but with the characters brought vividly to life — and with musical numbers.
The best of those include Aaron Lebedeff's signature Borscht Belt number "Romania," a bash-em-up drum solo by Ehrenreich himself on "Sing Sing Sing," and the cleverest sixties-rock medley you're ever likely to hear. The band, led by bassist Elysa Sunshine, plays well both musically and as an anchor for Ehrenreich's rich but skittering performance.
The show is sentimental, in the way of old-fashioned family entertainment. But every time it gets close to being too syrupy, Ehrenreich and his director, Jon Huberth, pull back from the brink. In the end, theater is all about balance, and this show has it just right: lots of humor, sweetness, and contagious song-and-dance energy; a little personal sadness; a sense of family and cultural history, with its comforts, and of course — we're talking about Jews, after all — its tragedies.
And I didn't even mention the audience participation. (Hint: Simon Says go see this show.)
Through May 28 at the American Theater of Actors, New York City.