Museum of the Yiddish Theatre


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The McKinley Square Theatre
1319 Boston Road, Bronx, NY
This production opened on December 31, 1935.


(Oh, Promise Me)

by Harry Hoffenberg, music by Manny Fleischman



The following review, written by D. Kaplan for the Yiddish Forward newspaper, was first published on January 10, 1936. Here is the English translation:

In the McKinley Square Theatre there is now a musical play, which is embellished with the name of an English song, "Oh, Promise Me." In order for the name to stand out, this song is sung a few times during the performance, but also this with a couple of English words, the others in Yiddish and Russian jargon. It should suit a Jewish theatrical audience, consisting mostly of immigrants, whose longing for the old country, after a Russian song, is deeply rooted in their soul. But the song is not the leitmotif of the production; the name does not express the very idea of what is happening on stage.

But in the most contemporary theatrical performances, however, very little emphasis is placed on whether or not the name fits the bill. No matter, it's a beautiful name.

Also not important is the thing on the program that is described as a "musical spectacle." The first act, true, indeed consists completely of singing, songs, dance, and truly deserves this name. But the other two acts create the main effect with very strong action. The trouble with a contemporary theatrical performance on the Yiddish stage is usually that it does not have a definite physiognomy of any particular kind, let alone a certain name, such as melodrama, comedy, or operetta. It's usually a mixture of everything together. The name "musical production" fits them probably best. "Production" is, after all, such a general name that one can call anything by itself, and if it contains song, it is a musical production.

"Oh, Promise Me," as such a production, is quite beautiful, with many musical numbers that are mostly completed by Herman Yablokoff and Bella Mysell, and with a melodramatic story that in several moments is very exciting, written by the well-known actor Isidore Friedman, who by himself also takes part in the production.

The story begins with a singer and songstress in a cabaret. This is well-adapted for the two actor-singers, Yablokoff and Bella Mysell. They have a possibility to sing, which is what they want, but this is even what the people demand of them. And indeed, they present you with many heartfelt, delicious songs and melodies.

The singer is called Michael Pearlman. The songstress -- Kitty. Michael would very much like to break out of this cabaret. He composes songs and shows them to Broadway producers, but they tell him that his songs are too melancholy, too sad. He came from the other side of the sea, from Russia, and his soul was still greeted with nostalgia and sadness, and especially with the specific Russian sadness. And America needs light, merry singing.

Michael is in love with Kitty, and also she with him. She They carry it hidden in hearts, but only for a while. When Michael explains that he wants to leave the cabaret, shpart di libe aroys in droysen. Michael wants to leave the cabaret, although he has no prospect of another job. But he can no longer see, he says, the boss of the cabaret, Nicky, a corrupt soul, has business with Kitty. Kitty explains, however, that she doesn't have any business with him: he clings to her, persecutes her terribly, but she hates him and would want to run away from there. She asks Michael to take her with him.

A declaration of love comes. Michael is, you see, ready to take Kitty and leave with her. But where will they go? And Nicky doesn't want Kitty to leave. He threatens her, that he will see that no cabaret will give her a job. And besides, he is, you know, a social man who has a connection to the underworld and can take his revenge.

The couple in love is sour in the heart. The author rescues them in this way. Kitty invites a Broadway theatre manager to an evening in the cabaret to hear Michael's singing. When Kitty manages to accomplish this, the author does not find it necessary to tell us. In short, the manager comes and is pleased with him, and he engages Michael for the theatre.

Several years go by. Michael is a success. He and Kitty live happily. They have a child, and that Nicky should not disturb their luck, the author also warned: Just that evening, when the Broadway manager took Michael from the cabaret, Nicky was arrested and imprisoned for several years.

Suddenly a thunder of clear sky breaks out. Nicky is out of jail and lets Kitty know that he must see her. She does not want to hear about it, but he tells her to understand that it is better for her to see him, otherwise he will settle it with her husband. Michael needs to perform something in the evening at an important concert that Nicky and his friends are coming to in order to ruin his concert.

Because of her husband's happiness, Kitty agrees to see Nicky. She stays home alone, while her husband goes away to the concert. Nicky comes in and says to her that she must go with him, that he cannot live without her. Naturally, she laughs at him. But Nicky explains to her quite strongly that she must obey him, otherwise he will make a pile of rubble out of her husband's concert, and if this isn't the case, her child might be taken away from her.

She has no choice. She knows that Nicky can fulfill what he says. She is sacrificing herself for the sake of the child. Nicky forces her to write a letter, and she leaves Michael because she's getting away with the one she loves. Michael becomes so broken up when he finds the letter, that he does not want to believe her anymore, when she comes the next day to tell him the story. He drives her away. She will disappear somewhere.

The child becomes ill from longing for the mother. The doctors say that to save the child they have to bring the mother to the child. But there is no trace of Kitty. A modern medium is needed -- the radio. And there appears an effective, beautiful scene. The child, a girl, lies in a hospital and whines, "Mama, mama." There is radio mic, announcing the child's condition and a plea, if the mother hears, she should immediately come, or if anyone knows her, let it be known to her. Then the child spoke by herself into the mic and begs for the mother to come.

And Kitty, to everybody's joy, also naturally to the audience, and she soon runs into the room to her child. And Michael does not let her go anymore.

*      *      *

Virtually all the scenes of the production have been staged with songs and singing, also with dance. The main singer, as it has already been mentioned, are the two main stars of the theatre, Herman Yablokoff and Bella Mysell. Yablokoff is already popular enough with the audience, with his heart-appealing singing, mainly with certain songs that are strongly taken, and that the public in the theatre demands that he should sing once more. Bella Mysell, with the sweet, golden sound of her voice, also evokes the same applause.

Almost all of the other participants help make the performance beautiful and enjoyable. Leon Seidenberg is correct as Nicky, the cabaret entrepreneur. Leon Schechter plays the doctor, Michael's friend, with a dramatic appearance and with taste. Julius Adler and Sylvia Fishman play the couple that makes the audience laugh.. They also are very good dancers.

Special fun is created by Yudl Dubinsky, as the peddler Shlomo Soloveychik. This time he came up with a new "gag," a toy, a very successful one, which is gaining ground with the audience.  In a certain scene, when Michael is going to perform in a new concert, he tells Michael that he has invited every countryman to the concert. He given all of them free "passes", so that they could applaud with bravos, and that when some of them start applauding, the whole crowd applauds, and the concert becomes a success in this way. We do it with all the great singers, says Soloveychik to Michael.

He let the countrymen when to applaud, when they are given a signal, Soloveychik says. And he shows Michael the signal -- a wild, loud screaming cry. And immediately on the spot, Michael and Soloveychik, namely Yablokoff and Dubinsky, begin to sing. And at the end, Dubinsky presents the signal, the loud cry. The crowd immediately catches on to the wink, and a storm of applause erupts.

Dubinsky continues the "signal" several times, and each time the theatre was illuminated with applause.

A compliment must also be given to the girl Gloria Goldstein, who plays the role of Dolly, Michael's and Kitty's daughter.

Also participating is Annie Ziman, Henrietta Jacobson, Bobby York and Rosa Schechter.





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