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That’s Jewish Entertainment
Review By Terry Eastham
Did you know, in the early 1940’s all the major movie studios – bar one – had one thing in common, any idea what that was? They were all headed up by a Jewish man. Now you may wonder how this came about. If you do, then get yourself along to Upstairs at the Gatehouse where Aria Entertainments are staging That’s Jewish Entertainment.
This lovely revue show takes its audience on a journey spanning over a hundred years. From the mass migration of Jews in the 19th Century, from the shtetl or Eastern Europe. Onto a new dawn in the United States of America. As they travelled, the jews took their culture with them. That culture has always been steeped in music and drama. For many of the dispossessed jews arriving in the USA, entertainment became more than just a cultural thing – It became a career. From the stages of Vaudeville they exported their skill in entertainment. Fully embracing the commercial side of show business as they went. Creating an era where there wasn’t a single sphere of the entertainment industry where Jewish people didn’t dominate.
Matthew Barrow, Joanna Lee, David McKechnie and Emma Odell sing, dance and narrate the story of the Jews. Using an array of wonderful songs starting with the music of the synagogue, with ‘Acheinu Kol Beis Yisrael’ (Our Brethren, the Jewish People) which is sung in Yiddish. Even though, I didn’t understand the meaning of the words, I appreciated its absolute beauty. Moving through various genres until we hit more contemporary musicals such as ‘Sadie, Sadie, Married Lady’ from Funny Girl.
In between songs, the team keep the history flowing. Stories about the Jewish community and famous individuals linking the tunes. Imparting information that I for one never knew on the way. So, we get to see a cut down, and absolutely hilarious, version of the first talking movie, The Jazz Singer. This iconic film, which in 1927 revolutionised the moving picture industry about a Jewish family, complete with Rabbi and overbearing mother. However, did you know, despite the success of the film, it would be decades before another film around a Jewish family would come out of a Hollywood studio?
We also got to know some of the personalities and heard amazing lines from some of Hollywood’s finest like Samuel Goldwyn “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”. And Groucho Marx “I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception.” Absolute genius.
There are also some amazingly poignant and emotional moments in the show. Such as the examples of music written by prisoners of the Naz’s during the Holocaust. Particularly the haunting ‘Hey Mayn Kind, Vi Vitn Brumen’ (Listen Child, the Winds are Howling). There are also some, possibly tenuous, parallels drawn between, for example the plot of ‘Oklahoma’ and the plight of the Jewish people. But to be honest I didn’t care, as writer Chris Burgess has put together a fabulous two-hour show. Which rather like the BBC used to do, entertains and informs in equal measure.
Full credit to the cast who are ably supported by a smart four piece band under their MD’s, Charlie Ingles/Alex Bellamy – who move around the stage like a well oiled machine. Nice choreography from Adam Scown really compliments throughout. Both creating the infectious effect that they are having a thoroughly good time. The selection of music is really eclectic. This show contains some of my favourite songs – ‘Tradition’ , ‘Don’t Rain on my parade’ and ‘My Yiddishe Mamma’.
So, That’s Jewish Entertainment is exactly what it says. ‘A well devised and executed entertainment about the Jews in show business’. It is lively and fun and a wonderful way of kicking off any lingering winter blues and reminding you that, in the words of the song, “There may be trouble ahead, But while there’s music and moonlight and love and romance, Let’s face the music and dance”.
I will leave you with one last quote from Groucho Marx “I didn’t like the play, but then I saw it under adverse conditions – the curtain was up. Well, if he had been with me to see That’s Jewish Entertainment he would have said “I loved the show, I saw it under perfect conditions – the curtain was up.”