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"A Happy Family"
(A freylikhe familye)


This play, written by the talented William Siegel, opened at New York City's Public Theatre on September 19, 1934. Perhaps this isn't an advertisement for the original production, because it says at the bottom, " ... and the original Public cast," which to me implies that the show was now being produced at a different theatre.

As you can see, it stars Aaron Lebedeff, Itzik Feld, Menachem Rubin and Lucy Levin. Also in the original cast were Pauline Hoffman, Vera Lubov (wife to Aaron Lebedeff), Anna Teitelbaum, Max Wilner and Yetta Zwerling.

The music was written by the famed composer Sholom Secunda, and the lyrics were written by Chaim Tauber.

The review below from the Forverts and photographs can also be found in the Museum of the Yiddish Theatre's online exhibition, "New York City's Yiddish Theatre and the Forward: How They Reviewed the Plays That Entertained the Mostly Jewish Public During the Great Depression, 1929-1941," which can be found at:


This review was written by D. Kaplan, and first appeared in the Yiddish Forward newspaper on September 28, 1934.

The Public Theatre on Second Avenue on 4th Street has opened the season with a fine production, a type of musical comedy that also has good content, a scene that borders on real life, with Jewish immigrant life in America.

The production is called "A Happy Family." Actually it would have been better suited to call it a happy production. The family that is shown is not very happy, according to the events that we see: she is far from free from trouble, worry and heartache. The production, in general, see, is already very cheerful, fun and amusing, with a lot of delicious singing and dancing, with playful fun and entertaining scenes and imagery.

Nowadays, undertakings of this kind must contain many entertaining "courts" and all kinds, if one wants to excel with the audience and attract them to the theatre, and the Yiddish theatres are indeed struggling lately to do so. The "happy family" really contains a lot of singing, dancing and fun things. You have all kinds of melodies and songs, from ancient Jewish, cantorial, Russian, to the "latest," the Spanish rhythmic dances and melodies that are now in vogue in our country.

And that this musical comedy really comes out happy and fine is enough to say that she is performed by such gifted players, singers and artists as Aaron Lebedeff, Itzik Feld, Menachem Rubin and Lucy Levin. Each one of them is an enjoyable force on the stage, who pull the audience toward them as a whole, let alone all four of them together. And their dancing and singing is helped out by a chorus of young, slender girl dancers and finely decorated scenes.

In addition it should be noted that the production is relatively pure, without the dirty jokes and loathsome scenes that certain sorts of actors keep trying to carry onto the Yiddish stage.

The content, as is said, is not bad: Here Louie Dworkin, a Russian immigrant, has worked his way up to his own big business, a bakery. He worked hard and bitterly after his father's death and supported his mother, sister and brother, whom he had brought down here. His main ambition was that his younger brother, Sidney, should study.

Soon thereafter, as the curtain begins to raise, we see that Sidney is already a lawyer. Louie is very proud of him, with the diploma that he had earned. Louie feels deeply that Sidney should marry Lili, a quiet, fine girl, an orphan. Sidney must come to Louis for more money, and he does not resist, but in silence he leads a love affair with a left-wing girl, Eva, who is only out to get presents and money from him. A drunk often comes to Eva to get a whiskey from her. This drunk -- he is called Misha Solovay -- is a "former human being," a musician, a singer who is sunk to the "deck," indeed for such women as Eva, as he himself explains later. There he met Sidney and found out that he was his compatriot and also a brother of Louie Dworkin, who is an old friend from his youth. It is understood that the "former human being" Misha Solovay, with a human spark in his chest, immediately opened Louie's eyes to his brother's disgusting actions.

When Misha comes to Louie in his house, he learns soon that the orphan Lili is his daughter. He abandoned her mother soon after the wedding and had disappeared. The mother passed away when Lili was only two years old. Lili was raised by a young man, a kloyznik with the name of Kopl Kive. This Kopl Kive now is a father to Lili. Misha wants to tell Lili that he is her father, but Kopl Kive tells him once in a conversation that Lili has no father; that said, even if the true father should come, he will no longer be a father to her, because he is an outcast and has never cared for her. He, Kopl Kive, is a father because he raised her. A father is not the person who brings a child into the world, but the person who raises the child.

Misha remains close-mouthed.

Between Louie and Sidney their relationship is very tense. Sidney does not want to marry Lili, he goes to Eva, and he even tells Lili. Louie tries to open his eyes to the fact that Eva is an outcast and only seeks to extort money from him, but Sidney laughs at him and calls him "Kike": What does Louie know about America and women?

Here Misha comes to help Louie, and they play a trick on Sidney to open his eves about Eva.

Louie pretends to be a millionaire from the West and pretends to fall head over heels in love with Eva, and he tells her that he wants to marry her. Eva then rejects Sidney right away. She now has a rich fiancé, and she tells this to him when he comes to her, and she shows him the groom. When Sidney sees that the groom is his own brother Louie, his eyes open. It is said that a madman can be cured of madness when he sees the same madness in another. This also happened with Sidney.


Now the creators are transformed: Sidney has already begun to speak and argue with Louis. He wants to save him from Eva's hands, he says. But Louie does not want to hear him flourish.

The ending is that Sidney returns to Lili and marries her. Eva understands and remains with a nose (awk.).

The roles of Louie Dworkin and his brother Sidney are played by Aaron Lebedeff and Max Wilner. Menachem Rubin plays the drunken Misha Solovay. Itzik Feld is Kopl Kive. Lucy Levin is Lili. Yetta Zwerling plays Kopl Kive's wife. Eva is played by Vera Lubov. The mother of Louie and Sidney is played by Pauline Hoffman. Anna Teitelbaum plays Molly, Eva's friend.

And the songs that stand out the best are sung by Lucy Levin and Menachem Rubin. Mr. Rubin sings several Russian songs and plays generally very well, like an actor of a high-grade. With much grace, truly natural appeal, they magically carry out their roles, as well as their dances, and all his funny pieces, the gifted Itzik Feld. As for the main star, Aaron Lebedeff, he is, as usual, cheerful, with the innate light grace and rhythm in his feet, and he sings tastefully, with a hearty Jewish groans.

Right to left: Menachem Rubin, Pauline Hoffman, Aaron Lebedeff, Vera Lubov, Max Wilner, Lucy Levin, Itzik Feld, Yetta Zwerling in a complete scene.

Lucy Levin and the chorus in her performance number.

Aaron Lebedeff, Itzik Feld, Menachem Rubin, Max Wilner, Pauline Hoffman, Yetta Zwerling, together with the chorus in a scene.

Aaron Lebedeff and Itzik Feld in a dance; the floor burning under their feet; together with them also Lucy Levin, Max Wilner, Yetta Zwerling, Pauline Hoffman, and chorus in a lively scene.

Vera Lubov and Anna Teitelbaum and the chorus in a colorful scene in "Greenwich Village."


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List courtesy of YIVO (Yiddish Institute for Jewish Research).

Courtesy of the American Jewish Historical Society and the Jewish Forward.

List courtesy of YIVO (Yiddish Institute for Jewish Research).

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