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The Golden Land
by Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld

1984-1985 season

Norman Thomas Theatre
111 East 33rd Street at Park Avenue.

Below you will find two fine reviews of "The Golden Land."


An article from the New York Times, dated October 30, 1984:



by Richard F. Shepard

"The Golden Land," which will be playing weekends a the Norman Thomas Theater on East 33d Street, is a new and buoyant musical, a cavalcade that retraces through 50 songs of the various periods the path of Jewish immigrants from Yiddish-speaking Eastern Europe. This is a familiar route but this English-Yiddish production romps through it so delightfully that even déjà vu takes on a freshness that turns it into love at first sight.

It doesn't need more of a plot than the story of immigration itself and it spins its tale with no more than a song, a dance, a joke, a skit, a nice sense of humor for what is funny and a deep sentiment for what was not. The songs are great -- most of them you have probably never heard -- such as "Ikh Bin a Border Bay Mayn Vayb" ("I'm a Boarder at My Wife's"), Amerike, Hurrah for Onkl Sem," and "Levine and His Flying Machine." If your sun is over the yardarm, you may just remember the "Joe and Paul's" commercial for men's garments on WEVD and may resonate retroactively with "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"

Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld, creators of "The Golden Land," have assembled a show that must appeal to all sensibilities. The English and Yiddish are charmingly mixed, so there is not a moment when either faction will feel left out of things. In one delicious interlude featuring a quick and comic survey of great Yiddish theater, "Macbeth" is heard in Yiddish, with English subtitles on screen. When we hear an enactment of something in English, the titles are in Yiddish.

"The Golden Land" may recall such other lively look-backs in English as "Vagabond Stars" a season or so to go, or the earlier acclaimed "Tin-types." But it is its own full-blown self, bringing a zesty Yiddish flavor to a work staged in the best fashion of a stylish, modern production in the general theater world.

A quintet of highly energetic, versatile and talented performers, directed by Howard Rossen, do so many things with such consummate teamwork that it would be impossible to say who was best at anything. They are Bruce Adler, Phyllis Berk, Joanne Borts, Avi Hoffman and Betty Silberman. With brilliance, they evoke Lower East Side peddlers, Menasha Skulnik, the mother of a Triangle Fire victim, Italian workers, a family greeting the Sabbath, Jacob Adler. Particularly enjoyable with the re-creation of Aaron Lebedeff's classic rapid-fire ebullient paean to Rumania, a Yiddish patter song that has been known to tie tongues.

The seven-piece Golden Land Klezmer Orchestra romps lustily through a mass of musical styles, ranging from liturgical and Yiddish throb to ragtime and jazz, including even a somewhat moody, Celtic-like workers' song The highly imaginative and minimalist settings of Abe Lubelski, abetted by good use of slides and projections, and Natasha Landau's costumes designed for quick change to match the march of time, along with Victor En Yu Tan's sympathetic lighting, are indispensable assets to the production.

"The Golden Land' represents careful musical research, but let's not bury it with academic eulogies. The show has the sparkle and oomph of seltzer right from the nozzle.


An article from the New York Times, dated November 9, 1984:

by Jon Pareles

Before World War II, downtown Second Avenue was a kind of Yiddish Broadway. Every night more than a dozen theaters filled up with Jewish immigrants who came to see operettas that reflected their own experiences as sweatshop workers, union maids and schleppers.

Remnants from that era are piled high in the archives of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research on the Upper East Side in collections donated by such performers and writers as Molly Picon, Boris Thomashefsky, Arnold Perlmutter and Herman Wohl. From those archives, the conductor Zalmen Mlotek and the producer Moishe Rosenfeld put together "The Golden Land," a revue of Yiddish theater songs and klezmer music that tells the immigrants' story in their own words and tunes, from the old country to Ellis Island to struggling and flourishing in New York City. It is playing weekends at the Norman Thomas Theater, 111 East 33rd Street at Park Avenue.

'A Bilingual Theatre Place'

Two years ago, the New York Yiddish newspaper The Jewish Daily Forward commissioned a pageant of Yiddish theater music for its 85th anniversary, and Mr. Mlotek started poking around the archives. The response to the music, which had not been heard for 50 and 60 years, encouraged the performers to tour Jewish communities with the pageant. Eventually, it was decided to extend and broaden the production into what Mr. Mlotek calls "a bilingual theater piece," in Yiddish and English.

"The material has very rarely been presented in terms of a 1984 sensibility," Mr. Mlotek said. "I felt it was important for people who have never been exposed to this to get a chance to hear it in a way that would be palatable in the present without losing the authenticity."

In this production, five singers and a seven-piece klezmer-style band toss off some four dozen songs, from "Amerike, Hurrah for Onkl Sem," to "The Yiddishe Charleston," to "When Rosie Lived on Essex Street." Mr. Mlotek has unearthed songs about the Triangle Shirtwaist factory fire of 1911, Yiddish greetings from the trenches of World War I and Yiddish lyrics to "Yankee Doodle" and "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain" that he heard from his mother and grandfather.

"The humorous stuff is fun," Mr. Mlotek said, "but the important documents are the ones written by poets and people who sometimes weren't professional writers and composers, people who were just about able to write."

"The cumulative effect of the material is what got to me," Mr. Mlotek added. "The number about Motl the Operator" -- in which a sewing-machine operator goes on strike and is killed by a hired gangster -- "is such a poignant statement of the times, with Kurt Weill overtones. That kind of material turns me on the most, the stuff that came from the heart."

'A Lot of Yiddish Shakespeare'

For songs with lyrics in Yiddish, the gist is translated or acted out, or both. "I felt strongly about using the original language," Mr. Mlotek said. "If the singer's intent is strong and if the presentation is honest, I can bring in an English word or two or set up a staging. You don't lose the intent of the author and composer when they wrote in Yiddish."

The production also gets some of its tradition directly; one principal, Bruce Adler, is the son of the Yiddish theater actors Julius Adler and Henrietta Jacobson. There is also a Yiddish adaptation of a monologue from "King Lear." "There was a lot of Yiddish Shakespeare," Mr. Mlotek said. "'Hamlet,' 'Lear,' 'Merchant of Venice' were all done and they were adapted to the Jewish situation. When Bruce says, " 'King Lear,' adapted, translated and made better by me, we know this was really said at the time"

Mr. Mlotek has edited the anthology, "Great Songs of the Yiddish Theatre." "I don't see this as my life's work, but there are tons of fascinating material that could be presented this way," he said. "They never thought, 'This is going to be seen in 60 years'; they didn't even copyright things the way we do now. But when you look at the music, and take time to see what's there, you find gems."

"The Golden Land: is performed Saturdays at 8:30 P.M. and Sundays at 2 and 5:30 P.M. Tickets are $12 to $19.50, and the box-office number is 686-7007 on weekends; the number for more information is 689-7610.




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