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Theater Review: A Jew Grows In Brooklyn

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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.

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About Jon Sobel

Jon Sobel is an Executive Editor of Blogcritics as well as lead editor of the Culture & Society section. As a writer he contributes most often to Culture, where he reviews NYC theater; he also covers interesting music releases. He writes the blog Park Odyssey, for which he is visiting and blogging every park in New York City—over a thousand of them. Through Oren Hope Marketing and Copywriting you can hire him to write or edit whatever marketing or journalistic materials your heart desires. By night he's a working musician: lead singer, songwriter, and bass player for Whisperado, a member of other bands as well, and a sideman.
  • jelorraine

    The show hit me right in my heart with the sentimental times gone by. Ehrenrich is terrific has great talent, voice , comedy and presentation of those wonderful times in the Catskill montain resorts.

  • Art Ellin

    I found this show shockingly vapid and breathtakingly unoriginal. I can’t even believe I had to pay to attend — should have been, perhaps, a showcase or something. The author/actor presents the most basic facts about Jewish immigrant families as though they are some sort of revelation to him. Ehrenreich’s depiction of the Catskills showed his true talent — he should be entertaining seniors on cruise ships. Do not bother with this play if you know anything at all about Jewish life in America or if you expect a theatrical event to offer a little bit of insight.