Museum of the Yiddish Theatre

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The Public Theatre
66 Second Avenue, New York, NY
This production opened on September 15, 1937.


(My Malkele)

by William Siegel, music by Abe Ellstein


This review was written by D. Kaplan and first appeared in the Yiddish Forward newspaper on September 24, 1937.

The operetta, "My Malkele," with which the Public Theatre opened the season, is a beautiful and quite rich production. It contains not only many pleasant images, amusing scenes, singing, dancing and merry naughtiness, but also has a fine, interesting content, which is really a rarity in the average contemporary musical production on the Yiddish stage.

Much emphasis was also placed on the furnishings. The scenery in some scenes is pleasing to the eye.

The main entertainers in the show are the two biggest and loveliest stage members on the Yiddish stage, our old beloved, very popular Molly Picon and Aaron Lebedeff. They both possess enough appeal, amusing mobility to keep the audience alive throughout the evening. Funny situations are often ruined on stage by the fact that the actor (or actress) lacks something, let's say, a little salt. The same fun or cuteness takes on a completely different flavor, perhaps on the whole one hundred percent successful when seasoned with personal charm. And what not to say about these two stars of ours, but in playful charm, that nature did not hurt them.

A very big advantage is the interesting content of the operetta. This is an authentic literary subject, even poetic. To what extent this subject has been worked out (or rather, not worked out) in the operetta -- this is another question. In the musical productions of the last several years in the Yiddish theatre in New York, the content, the story, occupies a very insignificant place. It's a little bit of a story, a scene that is staged and pictured smoothly into the world, in a logical way. And the piece is completely covered with songs, dances, hops and semi-comic scenes, just like a dress that is so hung up with a kruzheves, that the dress itself is barely visible.

"My Malkele" is actually also to a certain degree the same kind of operetta. It is not only far removed from the average contemporary musical production, but its good content raises it higher. The subject is a fresher, not of the exaggerated, handkerchief type. This is her foundation, and it occupies a significant place. The garment of the story looks good, stands out from among the kruzheves of the operetta.

The story is this:

In the small town of Karitchenitz, in our old country on that side of the ocean, there is a rabbi, R'Iserl'l. He has a daughter who is in love with a ordinary boy, Zelig. The rabbi is against the shiddukh and forcibly marries his daughter to one of his followers. Zelig goes away to America with a broken heart, and the rabbi's daughter later passes away.

In America Zelig works his way up to became a bos painter. He does not marry. He could not forget his beloved. Her image hangs on the wall in his house. Eighteen years pass by. He decides to go the visit the town of his birth, and the main reason is to look for his former lover. He doesn't know that she is dead.

In the rabbi's house in Karitchenitz they are getting ready for a wedding. R'Iserl's daughter, Zelig's former lover, had left a daughter, Malkele. She has a love, a fine young man, Yankele, who studies music in Vienna. But the grandfather wants to force her to marry some kind of cockroach, in addition, a sick person, a Jewish liver, who keeps coughing, and Malkele is helpless going against her evil grandfather.

Zelig arrives in Karitchenitz the evening of the wedding. He sees Malkele, and -- here there occurs an interesting moment.

Malkele is very successful with her mother, indeed, like two drops of water. Zelig thinks that this is his former sweetheart and cries out, "Leah'le!" (this is the name of Malkele's mother).

They declare to him that Leah'le is already long deceased, and that this is her daughter, Malkele. The death of his beloved for him is, naturally, a strong blow. However, a strange thing: after all, his beloved Leah is alive in his eyes, let it be in the form of her daughter. This figure is a refreshing balm for his conceited heart, which has longed and thirsted for so many years.

His heart becomes attached to Malkele. He is ready to do everything in the world for her. She must be rescued from her sad situation, from an unhappy wedding. He will marry Malkele and take her as his lawful wife.

Zelig, feeling obligated to the memory of Leah'le, takes advantage of a peculiar situation and saves Malkele from her mother's fate by marrying her, so that he can take her as his wife as her sweetheart in America. In this way he will avenge her.

A good plan, but it is executed on the Yiddish stage.

When Malkele stands under the canopy, she runs to Zelig, who grabs the ring out of the groom's hand, puts it on Malkele's finger and says "Hari at."

... A wedding takes place, and Malkele becomes Zelig's wife.

Zelig takes her with him. On the way he leaves her in Paris, travels to America and later brings her down to himself.

In New York a new complication begins, an interesting, delicate situation. Malkele has a sweetheart, Yankele (now he is called Jacob.) He has studied and now sings in a higher opera company in Chicago. She cannot wait for the minute when he will come to her, and she mounts a divorce from Zelig, you see, and he does not deny it to her, understand, and even promises to bring down her beloved. Over time, however, she gradually gets used to him. Her feelings become warmer to the old fellow Zelig, or R'Zelig, as she calls him. He is such a good, nice man, and above all he is so good and nice, given the profession of a singer. It's a concern, as it is, he sings beautifully.

In the operetta there are included several smaller roles that don't have any direct relationship to the act itself. However, they help to maintain the audience and give more color to the production.

Gertie Bulman and Sam Josephson fill out the place of the usual young pair in such theatre productions: They sing a number of smooth dances and songs.

Tillie Rabinowitz has a role of an old maid, vos khlsh't gets a father-in-law for a groom. The role is greatly exaggerated, a couple of moments, even to the grotesque. But for the gifted Rabinowitz, it's not bad at all. You feel overwhelmed, and yet you laugh.

Also participating are: Rose Greenfield, Jacob Wexler, Michael Wilensky, Pauline Hoffman, Jacob Zanger, Hymie Prizant, H. Schlecker, M. Secunda, A. Sternberg, and Eva Franklin.





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