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The Golden Land
by Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld

 

The Wonderful Bruce Adler z"l
by Moishe Rosenfeld

 

When Zalmen Mlotek and I were in the process of building our musical project "The Golden Land" into a fully staged Off Broadway production, bringing it to a large stage at the Norman Thomas High School for a full season run in 1984, we approached Bruce Adler, a super talented actor, and member of an illustrious Yiddish Theater family. We knew the cast needed an upgrade. Bruce had already amassed Broadway credits (having performed in "Oh Brother" , an "Oklahoma" he had recreated the role of Ali Hakim for the show's 1979 revival), and had starred in several Yiddish theater productions a decade earlier. I had expected it to be a long shot when I visited him in his Manhattan Plaza apartment to share the concept of The Golden Land - a musical that told the story of New York's Jewish immigrants via the songs and stories they themselves had created - and invite him to join the company. I explained that we would follow some characters over decades of their lives from the late 19th century till the end of World War II, creating an emotional musical montage in both Yiddish and English. Our goal was to connect the next generation, born in America, with the cultural treasures of the immigrants. Bruce fell in love with the concept, and agreed to join the cast. From that moment, we began a new and incredible voyage which would include three decades of collaboration and friendship.

At one of our first get-togethers around a piano, Zalmen asked if Bruce knew "Rumania, Rumania" - the biggest hit by the legendary Yiddish theater star Aaron Lebedeff. Bruce's response: "Lebby was a close friend of my parents, and when I was a little kid, he sat me on his lap and taught me to sing Rumania, Rumania." So of course this became Bruce's number in "The Golden Land". Then Zalmen played another little ditty that he'd found from the repertoire of Aaron Lebedeff." Hootsatsa." Very simple, lively little tune. We suggested to Bruce that this silly lyric could be the basis of a comedy shtick with jokes interspersed between the verses. Bruce's reaction was "got it!" and he went to work on digging up some hysterically funny jokes and stories, and voila - a number that would define his stardom was born. When "Hootsatsa" was fully formed, it was a song and dance tour de force peppered with Borsht Belt humor and Fred Astaire-like twirls and struts. Audiences went crazy. And when Bruce joined the world of email, his address would be Hootsaman@aol.com.

"The Golden Land" was a hit. The entire cast - Avi Hoffman, Joanne Borts, Betty Silberman and the unforgettable Phyllis Berk joined Bruce in depicting dozens of characters, and revisiting powerful, emotional moments of the Jewish immigrant experience. The show was such a hit that the original 10 week run needed to be extended. Then Bruce informed us that he'd been cast in Stephen Sondheim's "Sunday in the Park With George" and would have to leave the show. While thrilled for this break for our friend Bruce, it was a blow for us. But as the show continued to evolve the following season, Bruce rejoined the cast, and once again wowed critics and audiences with his humor, warmth, good looks and gorgeous voice.

Bruce was born into the Yiddish theater. His mother, Henrietta Jacobson was a beloved character actress with unique comic skills. His uncle Hymie Jacobson had been the "Hootsaman" of the previous generation - a song and dance star of many Second Avenue hits, including "Di Goldene Kale" (The Golden Bride) in 1921 which the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbine revived with a gorgeous production in 2015. His other uncle, Irving Jacobson was a well known character actor who played Sancho Panza in the 1965 Broadway production of "Man of La Mancha". Bruce spent much of his childhood performing in Yiddish shows and revues with his parents, a training and preparation for a life in the theater that no acting school could match.

Following The Golden Land, Bruce joined Zalmen's and my production of "On Second Avenue", a history of the Yiddish Theater, co-starring with the Rumanian Yiddish theater ingenue Mary Soreanu and the legendary Yiddish crooner Seymour Rexite. It was another tour de force for Bruce, for whom this served as a tribute to an entire genre his family had helped shape.

In 1990, Zalmen and I collaborated with the wonderful director and Yiddish theater star Eleanor Reissa to create our third bilingual musical - "Those Were the Days", which starred Eleanor Reissa, Lori Wilner, Robert Abelson, Yiddish theater giant Mina Bern, and of course Bruce Adler. After several out of town runs in Philadelphia and Los Angeles, "Those Were the Days" opened on Broadway in the Edison Theater in the Fall of 1990. Once again Bruce Adler gave a magnificent performance, resulting in a Tony nomination and a Drama Desk Award for best actor in a musical. Eleanor Reissa was nominated for a Tony as best director.

For millions of families around the world, Bruce Adler is remembered not by name, but by his unforgettable performance of the song "Arabian Nights" introducing the Disney classic animated film "Aladdin," which was released in 1992. Following that Bruce Adler was cast as an eccentric, charming producer in the Broadway musical "Crazy for You" for which he received his second Tony nomination for best featured actor in a musical. He stayed with the production for its entire four year run. In 2000, he co-starred with Chita Rivera in the Cole Porter musical "Anything Goes" at the Papermill Playhouse. We can enjoy their brilliant rendition of "Friendship" on YouTube.

During the final two decades of his life, Bruce performed his one man show, entitled (appropriately) "Song and Dance Man" in venues all over North America. I was deeply honored to have acted as his booking agent ... Bruce Adler passed away in 2009 at the very young age of 63, leaving behind his beloved wife Amy and their one year old son Jake. May his memory be a blessing.

 

 



 

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