December 3, 2003  
The Yiddish Theater in New York City (part five)

Before I begin about the production, (trials and tribulations), of Hard To Be a Jew
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 occurred.
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 this.

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:

Directed by David Licht
Music by Sholom Secunda
Lyrics by Yitzchok Perlov
Musical Director: Renee Solomon
Choreography: Pearl Lang
Sets and Costumes: Jeff Moss
Also starring:
Stan Porter, Miriam Kressyn and Jack Rechzeit
English Narrator: Zvi Scooler
Raquel Yossifon
David Carey
Shmulick Goldstein
Elia Patron
Berdardo Hiller
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 Picon.

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)

Loose translation:
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

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