November 3, 2003  
The Yiddish Theater in New York City (part four)

I remember that while I was growing up there were always guests around for Friday night dinner and sometimes for the weekend. Usually Sunday afternoons were always a pretty busy day at my parent's house.

Sometimes the people were musicians who would play chamber music in the music room. I remember most of these people quite vividly. There was my uncle, Irving Kritchmar who played the violin and "Hecky" Krasnow on the Viola. My father would sit in on second violin for quartets and Esther Jaffe rounded out the group on the Cello. My mother always played piano at these gatherings.

Other times my father would host a luncheon or dinner for actors and writers. Some of those usually found in attendance were Norman and Ruth Warembud, Helen Blay and her husband Joseph Goldblatt, Seymour Rexite and his wife Miriam Kressen; Wolf "Bill" Mercur, Morris Strasburg and the master of the Yiddish stage, Maurice Schwartz. He would come over with his wife Anna and his two children, Marvin and Frances. Very often after a good meal my father and Maurice Schwartz would retire to the music room and relax in the leather reclining chairs. Many times they'd both fall fast asleep. It was a bit strange for me to see and hear these two great friends and great men, Harry Rothpearl and Maurice Schwartz snoring away on a Sunday afternoon. (I believe that Maurice Schwartz had the more resonant tone.) I still haven't figured out why my parent's friends came to visit while my friends came to hang out. After all we played music also.

As a child I became friends with Morris Strasburg who smoked a pipe and would play chess with me at my father's house and also later during my college years at his apartment in Greenwich Village. I went to New York University at Washington Square and his place was just a few blocks away, so it was a perfect place to spend some time between classes. My children also became friends with Morris Strasburg. He had a way about him and a certain sparkle in his eyes that endeared him to small children. They always called him Mr. Fallsburg because they first met him at a picnic weekend at my parent's summerhouse in Fallsburg, New York, (in the Catskills). I also had a house on the property and my father and I built a guesthouse for guests to stay in. They liked him an awful lot but had a problem pronouncing his last name so they gave him a new one, which sounded almost the same. Years later I became friends with Norman Warembud and friends again with Frances Schwartz, (who had changed her name to Risa), and her husband, Bob. I also took to smoking a pipe and playing chess with children.

There was also another small group of people that crossed over the lines of delineation between music and theater. This group was Seymour Rexite, Norman Warembud, "Hecky" Krasnow, Lazar and Naomi Weiner and Mario Botoshansky and his wife Betty. Seymour was a singer as well as an actor. Norman Warembud ran Ethnic Music Publishing and "Hecky" Krasnow was involved with the recording industry, I can't remember if he worked for Decca Records, Capitol Records or Columbia Records. Lazar Weiner was a composer and Mario Botoshansky was a world-class cantor along the lines of my late grandfather Elias Kritchmar. You can see how the business end of the music-business was already in place.

All this leads us up to the fact that before my father decided to produce Yiddish shows he first got his feet wet by producing a Yiddish record. He ventured forth into the record business and here's how that story goes:

After Maurice Schwartz passed away my dad took it upon himself to immortalize the man. We had some tapes of Maurice Schwartz of certain recitations from scenes of the shows he had starred in. These tapes were made mostly by yours truly, although I believe a few were from radio broadcasts. Since my mother was a pianist she was given the job of playing some themes and background music. Marvin and Frances did some narrations and recollections and I recorded it all right there in my parent's music room.

The tapes were taken "downtown" to a professional recording studio where they got cleaned up and spliced together in order to make a cohesive record. The jackets were done with a collage of several faces of Maurice Schwartz and the record was pressed and released. They sold them in selected stores and over the airwaves at WEVD during the weekly Sunday Yiddish broadcasts. By the way he called the new record label Remembrance Records that sort of pointed the way to Jewish Nostalgic Productions, Inc.

Several years later my father, Harry decided that he wanted to revive the Yiddish Theater on Second Avenue in New York City. The vehicle picked for this first revival was Yoshe Kalb. The Eden Theater became his target since before it was called The Eden Theater it was known as the Yiddish Art Theater and had been built for Maurice Schwartz to perform at when he wasn't on the road. The previous tenant was Oh, Calcutta so he felt like he was doing a service to the lower east side by getting that show to close, (Harry felt that it was pornography).

The inside of the theater was physically "a shande", (a shame). After a total cleaning and refurbishing was done the jobs of set building, pre-production meetings and rehearsals finally began.

During this time I installed a complete sound system for the theater and did my sound checks during rehearsals. It wasn't a very demanding job of sound reinforcement since there was a small cast and just a piano for incidental music. Yoshe Kalb was a rather morbid story, (the opening scene takes place in a cemetery), and was done as an art production. To me that's always meant boring but it managed to play for 64 performances, (eight weeks). After closing the sets were struck, the sound system was removed, the actors applied for unemployment and the search for the next book or script for the coming year began.

My real challenge was to come the following year when Shver Zsu Zein A Yid, (Hard To Be A Jew) was chosen as the story and Harry decided to produce it as a full blown musical production, with musicians and dancers.

Next month I'll tell you all about that production. Until then, Shalom.

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