You Won't Succeed on Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews

2
A look at the Jewish contributors to the success of Broadway.
By Daryl - 28th Aug 2015

Image courtesy of Pamela RaithQuoth Monty Python in their hit spoof musical Spamalot, ‘You Won’t Succeed On Broadway If You Don’t Have Any Jews’. And if the hyperbole of the voiceover during this St James Theatre revival is to be believed, then never a truer word was uttered. But somewhere on this chronological journey from the 1930s through to the 21st Century, Daniel Donskoy and Michaela Stern’s revue of the musical influence of the Jewish community on the Great White Way somehow loses its way. As the show progresses, its referenced musical influences seem to diminish and become more tenuous. In this respect, it really is a show of two halves.

Appropriately staged and competently sung and danced throughout, we are introduced to the premise of the show by a voice of God narrative. More of that later. With songs from Berlin, Gershwin, Hart, Rodgers, and Hammerstein, the 1930s and 40s provide genuinely rich musical pickings which never quite spark into life – a combination of uninspiring staging and low key performances which at times feels more like an end of term showcase than a celebration of some of the most important contributions to musical theatre as we understand the genre today. Enter the 1950s and the narrative and chronology starts to creak with songs and composers being introduced out of order and context. This sets the scene for the 1960s and the remainder of the first half. Only John Barr’s rendition of Burt Bacharach’s ‘A House is not a Home’ shows any sign of the passion that this show requires or deserves. The half-time team talk must have been a good one as from a performance point of view, things pick up from the 1970s. The plot though, such as it is, becomes increasingly sketchy and the references more and more unsubstantiated, having to fall back on TV and film to make the show’s point. And the use of the voiceover becomes increasingly irritating. Not only does the convention slow the pace of the show throughout but it veers from informative narrative to party political broadcast.

Gripes with the commentary aside, the second half provides some stand-out performances. Sarah Earnshaw is beautifully deranged in ‘Getting Married Today’, the male ensemble super slick in ‘Four Jews in a Room’ and Alex Marshall simply stunning in ‘How Can I Call This Home?’ from Parade.

Ultimately though this is a decent revue of songs from the “Great Jewish Songbook” that is satisfactorily performed. Staging and direction are not slick or modern enough to lift this beyond a collection of nice songs, nicely sung.

Daryl Bennett


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