Before I begin about the production, (trials and tribulations), of Hard To Be
I'd like to back up just a bit. In all fairness to all of the people who took
part in the production of Yoshe Kalb, I think I should at least give you their
names. After all, acting is all about recognition, (the glow of the spot lights
and the sound of the applause).
Yoshe Kalb starred David Opatoshu and Jacob Ben-Ami. David Licht directed it,
and however minimal the music was it was still all original and composed by
Maurice Rauch, with lyrics by Isaac Dogim and choreography by Lillian Shapero.
As I told you last month it played it's eight weeks and became part of history.
Not everyone shared my opinion of this production. Clive Barnes of The New York
Times wrote; "Yoshe Kalb begins a new life for the Yiddish Theatre". The Daily
News and the New York Post critics also said; "a good show, a splendid
production" and "Superb Yiddish Theatre… See it!", respectively.
My duty now done let's travel on to Shver Zsu Zein A Yid, translated in
English as (Hard To Be A Jew)
The search for the next book or script for the coming year began, and after Hard
To Be A Jew was chosen the task of finding the right composer, lyricist,
choreographer and cast became the main focus of my father's theatrical life.
I named this particular installment about the Yiddish Theater Bonanza. Everybody
is most likely asking what does Bonanza and Hard to be a Jew have to do with one
another? Well, I remember as a child my father would many times, on a Sunday
afternoon make some popcorn, turn on the television and watch Hoppalong Cassidy.
He loved cowboy movies. As the years passed a new television series named
Bonanza hit the scene or screen. My dad was totally enthralled with the show. It
starred Lorne Greene as Ben Cartwright. He had three sons and rode herd over a
huge ranch. His enterprise included logging and milling of lumber. I'm not sure
if I told you this but Harry Rothpearl owned and operated a rather large
lumberyard in New York City. It was called Century Lumber. (I asked him once
upon a time why he chose that name. He said that he wanted to be close to first
in the phone book but all the good "A's" were taken and he couldn't find a
suitable "B" name). Anyway I think that Harry loved Bonanza so much because he
sometimes liked to picture himself as Ben Cartwright. He liked that program so
much that he finally bought a color TV., (it was the first show we saw in color
at my house, (or maybe I should say ranch or homestead?).
During the search for a suitable cast a very unusual and interesting thing
A call came for my father one day about applying for the starring role in Hard
to be a Jew. It was from Lorne Greene. It seems that he was not only Jewish but
spoke fluent Yiddish and wanted a crack at legitimate theater. Good old dad
tried to keep his composure but in the end he just "plotzed", (fell over,
collapsed, etc.). He could not really believe that his T.V. idol and role model
was calling him to ask if he could work for him. If I had ever had an experience
like that it would have had to have been something like "The Beatles" calling to
ask if they could record at Northlake Sound, (my studio).
There was, however one major problem with Mr. Greene's application. The problem
was "gelt", (money). Off Broadway Yiddish Theater could not even come
close to what was the minimal asking price for this particular star. And so the
search continued. Joseph Buloff was chosen for the part. It was a good choice
except for his age. The man was eighty years old and had to perform for two
hours, eight times a week. It seemed that I was the only one concerned about
I'd like to now list the all-star cast of Hard to be a Jew, (just in case I
forget), and then continue on with the story. By the way finding a young cast of
talented people who could act, sing, dance, and also speak fluent Yiddish wasn't
all that easy in 1974.
The posters and playbills read as follows:
JOSEPH BULOFF in Hard To Be A Jew
Directed by David Licht
Music by Sholom Secunda
Lyrics by Yitzchok Perlov
Musical Director: Renee Solomon
Choreography: Pearl Lang
Sets and Costumes: Jeff Moss
Stan Porter, Miriam Kressyn and Jack Rechzeit
English Narrator: Zvi Scooler
With a large cast of singers & dancers
(Yes, it actually says that on the poster)
The poster reads this way because actors are not only in it for the lights and
applause. The positioning on the poster and playbill and the size of the type
set used for their name is almost as important as the pay scale.
Now I don't know how or why a certain name was neglected on this presentation.
The missing name is Bruce Adler, who played the role of the Jewish student in
this "Prince and Pauper" musical extravaganza.
There is so much I want to share with you about this production and not enough
space to say it all.
So I'll close this month's article with the lyrics to the theme song of Shver
Zsu Zein A Yid. I can do this as the original copyright belongs to Harry
Rothpearl and Jewish Nostalgic Productions. The rights were granted to Norman
Warembud and Ethnic Music Publishing for publication in The New York Times book
entitled; "Great Songs Of The Yiddish Theater" by Norman H. Warembud and Molly
S'iz shver tsu zany a Yid, Me brent undz do di trit
Mir klogen un mir lyarmen, ven vestu zikh derbarmen
Oy, Tate, oy forter getrayer? Du varfst fun vaser undz in fayer
S'oz undz biter s'iz nisht gut Du bist dokh un be frayer
Oy, S'iz shver tsu zany a Yid.
( 1974, Ethnic Music Publishing)
It's hard to be a Jew
And be persecuted at every turn
Life's sometimes bitter and hopeless
But You God remain as our shield and protector.
Oh, it's hard to be a Jew
This song is found on page 196 of the above-mentioned book. The credit reads:
"The title song of Harry Rothpearl's production of Sholom Aleykhem's story.
Sholom Secunda's final contribution to the Yiddish Theater".
(Lot's more about all the folks involved next month)
Until then Shalom Mishpuchah