Sunday 12 February 2017

That's Jewish Entertainment - Review

Upstairs At The Gatehouse, London


Written by Chris Burgess
Musical Arrangements by Andy Collyer
Directed by Kate Golledge

The Cast

Katy Lipson's Aria Entertainments unveils its latest revue drawn from the world of Jewish melodies at Highgate's Gatehouse Theatre for a month's residency.

Compiled by Chris Burgess, That's Jewish Entertainment, unlike Aria's previous forays into the kosher catalogue, doesn’t just focus on the showbiz greats made famous by Jewish writers or performers, but also takes in snatches of liturgy from the synagogue alongside a sprinkling of Yiddish songs that stem from the vanished world of the shtetl, as well as from New York's Lower East Side at the turn of the last century. It all makes for a lively and entertaining evening, with Burgess having researched some fascinating historical details to link and segue the numbers.

Kate Golledge directs a strong quartet of singers who are all in fine fettle throughout. David McKechnie brings a neat impersonation of Groucho Marx to the gig, while one of Matthew Barrow's solo highlights is a well nuanced take on Al Jolson's Mammy. A novel twist sees the honours shared in the Barbra Streisand, Funny Lady moment. Emma Odell gives Sadie, Sadie, Married Lady an interpretation that can more than match the Barnes/Smith roadshow soon to tour the UK. Just before Odell's turn however, Joanna Lee steps up with a barnstorming Don't Rain On My Parade that was spine-tingling in Lee's power and presence.

Interestingly, Lee is the show's only Jewish cast member and whilst ethnicity may not matter when it comes to singing the Broadway greats, the foreign tongues of both Hebrew and Yiddish (like any language) demand an innate cultural familiarity in order to be fully savoured. Barry Davis is credited with having coached (well) the linguistic pronunciation, but it's hard, nay impossible, to replicate a lifetime's understanding and recognition of a language in a two week rehearsal window. Similarly Burgess's translations, albeit carefully created, tend to blunt the romantic power of the foreign lyrics' original sound. In future shows, maybe stick to the original words with projected surtitles? Just a thought.

The show's music however is flawless. Andy Collyer's arrangements of tunes drawn from across the Western Hemisphere is a joy to listen to and under Charlie Ingles' direction (though on the night of this review the talented Alex Bellamy was in the chair), the four piece band capture the songs' time, location and above all their spirit, perfectly. A nod too to Joe Atkin Reeves' sublime work on the reeds. His snatch of Rhapsody In Blue is spot on and when his clarinet work drifts towards klezmer, a Pied Piper-like entrancement falls across the predominantly grey-haired audience.

It’s a lovely show and as Moses might have said, That's Jewish Entertainment is well worth crossing the Red Sea for (or at least the North Circular Road)!

Runs until 11th March, then at The Radlett Centre on 12th March
Photo credit: Pamela Raith

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