|Stephen Mo Hanan and ensemble|
When Adar begins, joy increases.
And Adar II means a double helping of the joy encountered in the National Yiddish Theatre – Folksbiene’s critically acclaimed musical production of “The Megile of Itzik Manger,” which has returned to Baruch Performing Arts Center for a two-week limited engagement through March 16.
Several of the inspired design team, including production designer Jenny Romaine and lighting designer Natalie Robin, have returned, and Moti Didner, the Folksbiene’s associate artistic director, is directing once more. That is great news.
The Folksbiene has added some star power to the cast with Tony nominee Stephen Mo Hanan and Drama Desk nominee Avi Hoffman. Mr. Hoffman’s hit one-man shows, “Too Jewish?” & “Too Jewish Two!” landed such praise that he was named Performer of the Year by NY Press Magazine. Mr. Hoffman also had a featured role in the amazing Yiddish-language production of “Waiting for Godot” last year. Stephen Mo Hanan has been on Broadway and Off-Broadway for years, in the Broadway productions of “The Pirates of Penzance,” “Cats,” and “Peter Pan,” and a one-man Off-Broadway show, “Jolson and Company.” This is not his first Yiddish production either; he was a treat in the Folksbiene’s presentation of “Die Yam Gazlonim,” the charming Yiddish version of “Pirates.”
They will be accompanied by new cast members MAC Award winner Adam Shapiro, Alan Schmuckler, and Teaneck native Rachel Arielle Yucht. Filling out the returning cast members are Stacey Harris, Andrew Keltz, Rebecca Keren, and Hannah D. Scott.
With “Megile,” the Folksbiene has reimagined the classic Purimspiel as a small-town circus musical, filled with acrobatics, masks, puppets large and small, sideshow sets, whirling dance numbers, double entendres, proletarian politics, and a variety of other elements, which keep the ear and eye delighted throughout.
A renowned Yiddish writer and poet in Warsaw between the wars, Itzik Manger fled Poland in 1938 and after a few stops landed in London, where he lived for more than a decade. In the mid-’50s he moved to Israel, and stayed there until his death in 1969. Despite the “language wars” in Israel, which Yiddish lost decisively, Mr. Manger achieved considerable success there, and his “Songs of the Megillah” was a hit in Tel Aviv in 1965. Two years later, it transferred to New York and played on Broadway as “The Megile of Itzik Manger,” starring the Burstein family, stars of the Yiddish theater.
Mr. Manger’s contribution to Jewish literature was to crack open the shell of commentary that had mummified traditional biblical stories for more than a millennium and present them in a contemporary style and context. In his megillah, Queen Esther has a boyfriend who is a downtrodden member of the working class, and Shushan has been removed to Eastern Europe. Haman is a typical Polish anti-Semite, and Vashti a feminist heroine. Her hanging feels genuinely tragic, even though it leads to Esther’s triumph.
During this revival run, a special Purim celebration is set for the evening of March 15, sponsored by 67 Wine & Spirits and Boston Beer Company. This special performance will include a reading of the Megillah of Esther 30 minutes before the 9 p.m. curtain. The reading will be presented in Yiddish, with English translations. The performance following will conclude with a reception and costume contest judged by luxury fashion designers Caitlin Kelly, owner of Caitlin Kelly Designer Swimwear, and Hila Geller, design director at Robert Graham Designs.
“The Megile of Itzik Manger” is presented in Yiddish and with some English, complemented with English and Russian supertitles.
Performances will run Sunday at 2 p.m. & 6 p.m.; Wednesday at 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m.; Thursday at noon & 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 8, at 8:30 p.m.; and Saturday, March 15, at 9 p.m.
For tickets, call (866) 811-4111 or go to nationalyiddishtheatre.org.