We opened SHLEMIEL last night – our best performance musically, theatrically, so am grateful to the amazing team that’s brought this show home and gotten us through an admittedly arduous process — losing director Nick Olcott to a family emergency and a couple days of rehearsal as well. Where would we have been without the wise and gallant leadership of Michael Russotto stepping in? It’s a true community feel-good story about artists coming together in a time of crisis to devise a way bringing a very complicated comedy in under the wire. So kudos to the musicians, actors, design team, staff, all of whom are now spreading a whole of lot of good energy in this totally happy-making show.
There’s a great piece in the Post Weekend section today on SHLEMIEL creator and adapter, Robert Brustein. Bob was there last night beaming and happy to be back in the sonorous presence of musical he just adores — a piece that brought him great joy as a producer and creator.
Now is SHLEMIEL for everyone? Does it translate outside the community? Who will love it and who won’t? Our bets are that Mr. Marks, who was there last night from the Post, will be a Scrooge, just as he’s been on all the other holiday shows. He wore his “I’m bored” look through the entire show last night, barely taking a note, not clapping at the end. I know Peter. He’s a pretty naked, transparent member of the audience and his body language almost never lies. Although there was that one time at Studio Theater during the intermission of MY CHILDREN, MY AFRICA where we both quipped that it felt like we were in an airport terminal with all the intermission announcements on the loud speaker and he seemed to have been quite bored in his seat during a tedious act one (of what turned out to be a powerful and moving show), occasionally Sir Peter has a poker face. But not in our Jewish Theater. He wears his shpilkes on his sleeve, so when he’s antsy, he shows you. And when he’s simply unimpressed or disaffected, he shows you that too. He showed me that from very far away. Now let’s see if we’re wrong. We’re all prepared to take a hit.
And the word of mouth last night was good but mixed, depending upon which benefactor you talked to, or which person in the know from this material was in heaven. It ain’t for everyone — even when performed at a perfect artistic level of command and charisma. Silly pickle jokes that bring one back to the Marx Brothers may not be everyone’s idea of a great time. The consensus from most every one in the audience these past 3 nights: Our Act II is delivering a more satisfying range of emotions than Act I. More happens in Act II in a shorter span of time than in the Act I that hop-scotches around from character to character in its first 5 numbers. The play finds a center more compellingly in Act II perhaps — but if the jokes and hijinx are connecting in Act I (and musically it hits a terrific pinnacle in the Rumania/Geography song), then Act I should be its own great reward. We’re still one performance step away from totally selling that climax. But we’re getting there.
We’re set for a great run. With a ton of other work to do while we’re performing. Today we begin reading through the new draft of DAVID IN SHADOW AND LIGHT, our world premiere musical beginning rehearsals in 3 months! Onward!