The Great Ostrovsky

Featuring ham and cheese with lots of schmaltz, this musical looks back at the theatrically rich and politically complex world of Yiddish Theater in New York between the 1880s and 1920s. But offering little history and substituting caricatures for characters, "The Great Ostrovsky" isn't content to be <I>about</I> these oldtime shows, with their revered stars and immigrant audiences, but rather ties to<I> be</I> such a show.

With:
David Ostrovsky - Bob Gunton Rose - Louise Pitre Jenny - Rachell Ulanet B.D. Kotlow - Jeff Edgerton

Featuring ham and cheese with lots of schmaltz, this musical looks back at the theatrically rich and politically complex world of Yiddish Theater in New York between the 1880s and 1920s. But offering little history and substituting caricatures for characters, “The Great Ostrovsky” isn’t content to be about these oldtime shows, with their revered stars and immigrant audiences, but rather ties to be such a show. The result is unintentional parody, mocking the very thing it wants to celebrate.

Things begin well, with lots of klezmer sobbing from a cello, and hilarious fake beards on the chorus. Solidly bankable star David Ostrovsky has rewritten “The Dybbuk” as a musical comedy — adding a happy ending.Relentlessly upbeat approach is expensive for the producers and exasperating to the serious actors. This Nahum Tate approach to “Lear” is endlessly repeated, but finally creates the show’s only genuinely funny moment when Ostrovsky, unable to go through with his straight production of “A Doll House,” refuses to let Nora leave, saying, “A Jewish wife does not leave her husband her children. Sit down. We’ll have some tea.”

There are attempts at plotting: Ostrovsky is sabotaged by craven producers and forced to retire to the country, only to make his comeback in a Romanian restaurant; immigrant Jenny falls in love with a socialist critic who turns out to be Ostrovsky’s long lost son.

But cliched jokes abound: “Don’t ever say ‘Good Luck’ in the theatre; say ‘Break a Leg.’ ” “But why would I want you to break your leg?” Lyrics rhyme so obviously that one nearby audience member kept muttering the words to complete couplets before they could come from the stage. Worse, every song has too many verses, and most of them are vaguely reminiscent of a song you already know. It all becomes stupifying after a while, a kind of Yiddish Muzak.

Everybody’s got great voices, especially Louise Pitre — her songs are the only moments of subtlety. Still, by the end, the reprised refrain, “It’s good to be alive, it’s good to see a show,” feels less than convincing.

The Great Ostrovsky

Prince Music Theater, Philadelphia; 450 Seats; $48 Top

Production: A Prince Music Theater presentation of a musical in two acts with book by Avery Corman, music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Coleman and Corman. Directed by Douglas C. Wager, co-directed and choreographed by Patricia Birch. Set, Zach Brown.

Creative: Costumes, Miguel Angel Huidor; lighting, Troy A. Martin-O'Shia; sound, Matthew Callahan; orchestrations, Jonathan Tunick; music director, Steven Gross; production stage manager, Lloyd Davis Jr. Opened March 13, 2004. Reviewed March 24. Running time: 2 HOURS, 15 MIN.

Cast: David Ostrovsky - Bob Gunton Rose - Louise Pitre Jenny - Rachell Ulanet B.D. Kotlow - Jeff EdgertonWith: Edward Staudenmayer, Paul Kandel, Daniel Marcus, Nick Corley, Jeffrey Denman, Logan Lipton, Deanna L. Dys, Jonathan Hadary, Kirsten Wyatt.

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