Review: ‘Mendel and Moses’

Mendel and Moses (Century City Playhouse; 99 seats; $ 22 top) The Passover Co. presents a musical in two acts, with book by Jeremiah Ginsberg and Wendy Ginsberg, music and lyrics by Jeremiah Ginsberg. Directed by Jeremiah Ginsberg; set, Mark Henderson, Tim Farmer; costume, Matthew Davidson, Debbie Gluck; lighting, D. Martyn Bookwalter; choreography, Tanya Bagot, Wally Bagot. Opened May 3, 1997; reviewed May 4; runs through June 15. Running time: 2 hours, 45 min. Cast: Elkin Antoniou (Ellie, Magician, Ensemble), Ciro Barbaro (Mendel Moskowitz), Amick Byram (Voice of God), Mary Chen (Anna, Ethiopian Woman, Magician, Ensemble), Spencer Cherashore (Uncle, Captain, Dathan, Ensemble), Dan Collins (Korah), Jesse Garnee (Moses), Tomas Guajardo (Gabriel, Joshua), Brad Heller (Stein, Wounded Slave, Shepherd), Carol Hurley (Farfel, Ensemble), Margaret Hurley (Girl, Ensemble), Harper Johnston (Sever, Adam, Caled, Ensemble) , Karen Kataline (Sadie, Sugarman, Fanny), Cassie LaRocca (Eve, Zipporah), Daniel Otero (Server, Guru Loole, Abiram, Guard), Kerlma Reed (Trudie, Cohen, Miriam), Leah Stanko (Apple Tree, Leah, Burning Bush, Magician), Daniel Tirman (Taskmaster, Shepherd, Aaron), Ned York (Beelzebub, Pharaoh). Jeremiah Ginsberg's musical is a 20-minute Sunday school sketch that has been turned into a bloated, overwritten singing and dancing marathon lasting nearly three hours. Despite some charming and spirited performances by a generally talented cast, nothing can redeem this excruciatingly long show. Very loosely based on the story of Moses and the Exodus of the Jews, the play begins in the Brooklyn dining room of Sadie Schwartz (Karen Kataline) at the family's Passover seder. When relative Mendel Moskowitz (Ciro Barbaro) complains about the festivities, God (voice by Amick Byram) plays a cruel trick on Mendel by transporting him back to ancient Egypt. Back in Egypt, Mendel meets Moses (Jesse Garnee) and is witness to the tempting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the freeing of the Jews from Pharaoh (Ned York), the marriage of Moses to Zipporah (Cassie LaRocca), the burning bush, the Exodus and other assorted events from the Old Testament. All the while, Mendel provides running commentary in the vein of a Borscht Belt comedian. With the current upsurge of homegrown ethnic theatricals, Ginsberg's musical fits into the niche of the amateur piece that relates simple tales and universal emotions in the familiar garb of ethnic music and humor. And with the music and lyrics by Ginsberg, book by Ginsberg and his wife, and production directed and produced by Ginsberg, the piece certainly qualifies in the homey "Let's put on a show!" category. However, a show like this needs to be fast-paced and entertaining. Much of Ginsberg's humor and staging is extremely broad, with its roots clearly in Yiddish theater. The overall point that many secular Jews ignore their religious and historical past is undeniable. But none of this can overcome the self-indulgent excesses of the creator, who can stretch a lyric to make "Moses" rhyme with "toes," and who has clearly never considered that less might be more. In the midst of this musical morass are a number of wonderfully gifted performers. Garnee has a solid voice and a consistent, grounded perspective on the character of Moses. LaRocca, who goes from an hysterical Eve in the Garden of Eden to a dignified, beautiful Zipporah, has a fine voice and a charismatic stage presence. Barbaro is energetic and zany as Mendel and York creates a delicious Beelzebub and Pharaoh. Production values are generally good, with excellent choreography by Tanya and Wally Bagot. If creator Ginsberg would consider cutting the play in half, he might have a light and fluffy macaroon, instead of a heavy, bloated Matzoh ball that offers nothing but heartburn.

Mendel and Moses (Century City Playhouse; 99 seats; $ 22 top) The Passover Co. presents a musical in two acts, with book by Jeremiah Ginsberg and Wendy Ginsberg, music and lyrics by Jeremiah Ginsberg. Directed by Jeremiah Ginsberg; set, Mark Henderson, Tim Farmer; costume, Matthew Davidson, Debbie Gluck; lighting, D. Martyn Bookwalter; choreography, Tanya Bagot, Wally Bagot. Opened May 3, 1997; reviewed May 4; runs through June 15. Running time: 2 hours, 45 min. Cast: Elkin Antoniou (Ellie, Magician, Ensemble), Ciro Barbaro (Mendel Moskowitz), Amick Byram (Voice of God), Mary Chen (Anna, Ethiopian Woman, Magician, Ensemble), Spencer Cherashore (Uncle, Captain, Dathan, Ensemble), Dan Collins (Korah), Jesse Garnee (Moses), Tomas Guajardo (Gabriel, Joshua), Brad Heller (Stein, Wounded Slave, Shepherd), Carol Hurley (Farfel, Ensemble), Margaret Hurley (Girl, Ensemble), Harper Johnston (Sever, Adam, Caled, Ensemble) , Karen Kataline (Sadie, Sugarman, Fanny), Cassie LaRocca (Eve, Zipporah), Daniel Otero (Server, Guru Loole, Abiram, Guard), Kerlma Reed (Trudie, Cohen, Miriam), Leah Stanko (Apple Tree, Leah, Burning Bush, Magician), Daniel Tirman (Taskmaster, Shepherd, Aaron), Ned York (Beelzebub, Pharaoh). Jeremiah Ginsberg’s musical is a 20-minute Sunday school sketch that has been turned into a bloated, overwritten singing and dancing marathon lasting nearly three hours. Despite some charming and spirited performances by a generally talented cast, nothing can redeem this excruciatingly long show. Very loosely based on the story of Moses and the Exodus of the Jews, the play begins in the Brooklyn dining room of Sadie Schwartz (Karen Kataline) at the family’s Passover seder. When relative Mendel Moskowitz (Ciro Barbaro) complains about the festivities, God (voice by Amick Byram) plays a cruel trick on Mendel by transporting him back to ancient Egypt. Back in Egypt, Mendel meets Moses (Jesse Garnee) and is witness to the tempting of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, the freeing of the Jews from Pharaoh (Ned York), the marriage of Moses to Zipporah (Cassie LaRocca), the burning bush, the Exodus and other assorted events from the Old Testament. All the while, Mendel provides running commentary in the vein of a Borscht Belt comedian. With the current upsurge of homegrown ethnic theatricals, Ginsberg’s musical fits into the niche of the amateur piece that relates simple tales and universal emotions in the familiar garb of ethnic music and humor. And with the music and lyrics by Ginsberg, book by Ginsberg and his wife, and production directed and produced by Ginsberg, the piece certainly qualifies in the homey “Let’s put on a show!” category. However, a show like this needs to be fast-paced and entertaining. Much of Ginsberg’s humor and staging is extremely broad, with its roots clearly in Yiddish theater. The overall point that many secular Jews ignore their religious and historical past is undeniable. But none of this can overcome the self-indulgent excesses of the creator, who can stretch a lyric to make “Moses” rhyme with “toes,” and who has clearly never considered that less might be more. In the midst of this musical morass are a number of wonderfully gifted performers. Garnee has a solid voice and a consistent, grounded perspective on the character of Moses. LaRocca, who goes from an hysterical Eve in the Garden of Eden to a dignified, beautiful Zipporah, has a fine voice and a charismatic stage presence. Barbaro is energetic and zany as Mendel and York creates a delicious Beelzebub and Pharaoh. Production values are generally good, with excellent choreography by Tanya and Wally Bagot. If creator Ginsberg would consider cutting the play in half, he might have a light and fluffy macaroon, instead of a heavy, bloated Matzoh ball that offers nothing but heartburn.

Mendel and Moses

Century City Playhouse; 99 seats; $22 top; Opened May 3, 1997; reviewed May 4; runs through June 15

Production

The Passover Co. presents a musical in two acts, with book by Jeremiah Ginsberg and Wendy Ginsberg, music and lyrics by Jeremiah Ginsberg. Directed by Jeremiah Ginsberg; set, Mark Henderson, Tim Farmer;

Creative

costume, Matthew Davidson, Debbie Gluck; lighting, D. Martyn Bookwalter; choreography, Tanya Bagot, Wally Bagot.. Running time: 2 hours, 45 min.

Cast

Cast: Elkin Antoniou (Ellie, Magician, Ensemble), Ciro Barbaro (Mendel Moskowitz), Amick Byram (Voice of God), Mary Chen (Anna, Ethiopian Woman, Magician, Ensemble), Spencer Cherashore (Uncle, Captain, Dathan, Ensemble), Dan Collins (Korah), Jesse Garnee (Moses), Tomas Guajardo (Gabriel, Joshua), Brad Heller (Stein, Wounded Slave, Shepherd), Carol Hurley (Farfel, Ensemble), Margaret Hurley (Girl, Ensemble), Harper Johnston (Sever, Adam, Caled, Ensemble), Karen Kataline (Sadie, Sugarman, Fanny), Cassie LaRocca (Eve, Zipporah), Daniel Otero (Server, Guru Loole, Abiram, Guard), Kerlma Reed (Trudie, Cohen, Miriam), Leah Stanko (Apple Tree, Leah, Burning Bush, Magician), Daniel Tirman (Taskmaster, Shepherd, Aaron), Ned York (Beelzebub, Pharaoh).
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