New York’s Second Avenue looms large in the mythic landscape of Broadway Theatre. A century ago the East Village neighbourhood was the ghetto for Jews from Central Europe where Yiddish Theatre In America was born and flourished. It became “americanized,” and went on to influence not only the Vaudeville stage but Broadway itself, On 2nd Ave, playing at the Segal Centre until July 1, is a revival of the show that was staged at the Segal in 1998. . It pays homage to Abraham Goldfaden who is said to have started the first professional Yiddish theatre company in Romania.
Authors Moshe Rosenfeld and Zalmen Mlotek have fashioned 15 skits skits spanning 150 years of theatre history into a a casual-spirited musical that brightens any evening.
The cast, which includes a large chorus, is led by narrator Edit Kuper and is bolstered by vocalists such as Eve Petris, Jordan Marchand, Catherine Marmen and Cheryl Blum. The whole evening is a throwback to the old school of musical comedy where each of the 15 scenes establishes a narrative for a song or comic routine. It is enlivened by the antics of Aaron Gonshor and Sam Stein, as two hoofers, “Shwartz and Seigel.” Gonshor’s Menashe Skulnik medley alone is worth the price of admission.
John Gilbert pumps up the audience with his spirited musical direction, and John. C. Dinning has designed a set that conveys the atmosphere of a down at the heels theatre and Susan Vera’s costumes convey the appropriate sense of era
The second half seems a little overlong and theatrically less disciplined, but Directors Bryna Wasserman and Audrey Finkelstein are talented creators who have tempered the schmaltz with tenderness and deep affection. Jim White has choreographed the whole shtick with flair, including a fairytale sequence with a knight riding around the stage on horseback.
It’s all in Yiddish, with English and French subtitles, but even non-jewish audiences can identify. The show does exactly what theatre is meant to do: entertain, educate, and carry an audience aloft in defiance of language and logic. As one of the characters says, “Going to the theatre is even better than eating supper.” On 2nd Avenue is that satisfying.