The publication of Alisa Solomon’s “Wonder of Wonders: A Cultural History of Fiddler on the Roof” has seemed to reassert the prominence of “Fiddler” as the Jewish musical to end all Jewish musicals. “Fiddler,” Eileen Reynolds wrote in her review of Solomon’s book, “has achieved something like folklore status in the American imagination, and grapples, as any history of this musical must, with fundamental questions about Jewish identity.”
The same year that “Fiddler” premiered on Broadway, however, another American musical brought not only Jewish themes and narratives to forefront but also a new star to the stage. That was “Funny Girl,” a fast-and-loose biographical telling of the life of entertainer Fanny Brice, played by Barbra Streisand. But unlike “Fiddler,” “Funny Girl” remains undervalued, and is not generally considered to be as important a musical.
In “Fiddler on the Roof,” the American Jewish audience was able see something of itself. This not only had to do with the musical’s presentation of shtetl life, with the spectre of expulsion and pogrom looming over everything, but also with the struggle between tradition and modernity. New political and cultural ideas like Marxism and intermarriage challenge longstanding belief and Tevye, as the embodiment of this antagonism between past and present, seeks to preserve his relationships with his wife and daughters as the shtetl disintegrates around him.
Jonathan Tolin’s hilarious and at times poignant comedy, “Buyer and Cellar,” has received rapturous reviews. It recently moved into the Barrow Street Theater in Greenwich Village, where it continues to play to sold-out crowds.
The idea for the show sprang from Barbra Streisand’s coffee table book, “My Passion for Design.” A self-aggrandizing tribute to her taste, it recounts how she created her Malibu estate, including a private mini-mall built to house her acquisitions in the basement of a barn. There are several stores there, including one for dolls, one for antique clothing and even a “gift shoppe.”
Until now, Tolins was best known for “Twilight of the Golds,” about a Jewish family wrestling with a “gay” problem. When genetic testing indicates a daughter is pregnant with a child likely to be gay, the family, including a gay son, debates the next step. It ran briefly on Broadway, had numerous productions around the world, and was turned into a Showtime movie.
Tolins spoke to The Arty Semite about how his new play came about, the time he met Barbra and how his own parents dealt with his coming out.
Curt Schleier: How did “My Passion for Design” become the basis of your play?
Jonathan Tolins: I started thinking, how would you like to be the guy who works down there? A friend suggested I wrote it as a one-man show. I’d never done that before and the idea just tickled me. I just thought it would be really funny and interesting and give me a chance to write about things I cared about: money and show business, how people with a lot of money spend their time, and about uneven relationships where both parties have a lot of power. The idea wouldn’t go away. I did a lot of reading and thinking about it until the situation became so real to me I could write about it as if it actually happened.
“I watch this movie maybe once every two weeks,” my friend Jamie said to me, giggling, as we found our seats for a screening of “Funny Girl.” The Museum of Jewish Heritage was screening the film as a part of their ongoing “Hello, Gorgeous!” Film Festival, in which they’re showing a different Barbra Streisand movie for free every week during the summer. She was so excited to see Barbra on the big screen.
The theater was filled with a decent amount of people for a 6:30 p.m. screen time in the Financial District. Many of them were women with white or graying hair, plus the occasional younger ones like Jamie and myself. I had seen the movie many times, of course, and I knew the songs without even trying, but I came to see it tonight mostly because I thought it would be a fun thing to do with my friend who adores the film so much she sat next to me reciting lines from memory. As we watched, I remembered how I felt the first times I saw “Funny Girl,” when I was in elementary school.
When I was in fifth grade, I gave a “Living History” presentation on Fanny Brice. I knew about Fanny because my mother, a lover of movie musicals and of Barbra Streisand, had introduced me to “Funny Girl.” Entranced by Streisand’s comedy and singing and fabulous eyeliner, I wanted to learn about the woman she portrayed. Was she really as funny and noisy and boisterous as Barbra? I wanted to be like both of them!
Another event has been added to Barbara Streisand’s busy schedule during her upcoming visit to Israel. In addition to singing at President Shimon Peres’s 90th birthday party and giving two public concerts in Tel Aviv, she will receive an honorary doctorate from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The honor will be bestowed upon her on June 17, during the 76th Hebrew University International Board of Governors Meeting.
The honor recognizes Streisand for her professional achievements, human and civil rights leadership, philanthropy, and devotion to Israel and the Jewish people. In 1986, she established The Streisand Foundation, which is dedicated to fostering women’s equality and health, protecting human and civil rights, advancing the needs of at-risk children in society and preserving the environment. Since its inception, it has granted $25 million to more than 800 non-profit organizations around the world.
“Barbra Streisand’s transcendent talent is matched by her passionate concern for equality and opportunity for people of every gender and background. Equally important, her love of Israel and her Jewish heritage are reflected in so many aspects of her life and career. We are deeply proud to honor an individual who exemplifies these values which we at the Hebrew University share and uphold,” stated Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, president of the Hebrew University.
Barbra Streisand will perform two Tel Aviv concerts in Israel in addition to performing at the 90th birthday celebration for President Shimon Peres.
The concerts will take place June 15 and 16 at Tel Aviv’s Bloomfield Stadium, Israeli media reported.
On June 18, Streisand will perform at the opening ceremony of the Israeli Presidential Conference, which will be marking Peres’s milestone birthday.
Streisand reportedly has visited Israel many times, and is a strong supporter of Israel, but has never performed in the Jewish state.
One of the best-selling musicians of all time, Streisand has sold some 72.5 million records in the United States. She performed at last month’s Oscars for the first time in 36 years.
Some 4,500 people are expected to attend the Israeli Presidential Conference.
Babs is heading to the Holy Land.
Barbara Streisand will sing on June 18 at the opening ceremony of Shimon Peres’s annual Presidential Conference, which this year will honor the president’s 90th birthday.
Although the 70-year-old iconic singer has visited Israel privately a number of times, this will be her first official public appearance there. It was reported that it was Israeli concert promoter Shuki Weiss, working closely with Live Nation, who sealed the deal to bring Streisand to Israel as part of a rare European tour.
Because of the involvement of Weiss, who is known for bringing big names to Israel (including Depeche Mode and Alicia Keys this year), there is speculation that Streisand may not just sing her version of “Happy Birthday, Mr. President,” but might actually agree to play a larger venue. Ynet reports that such a concert would take place either June 15 or 16.
Barbra Streisand will take the stage at this year’s Academy Awards on February 24, for the first time in 36 years. Streisand, 70, last performed in 1977 to sing the theme song for “A Star Is Born.” She also appeared at the 75th Academy Awards, in 2003, to present Eminem with the Best Original Song award for “Lose Yourself” and she announced Kathryn Bigelow as Best Director for “The Hurt Locker” in 2010.
Streisand’s own Oscars include Best Actress for 1968’s “Funny Girl,” and Best Original Song for “A Star Is Born.” The Forward named Streisand to its Forward 50 list this past year on the heels of two sold-out shows at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
Streisand also appeared in the recent film “The Guilt Trip,” starring as a Jewish mother opposite Seth Rogan.
It’s difficult to decide who to hold responsible for the new Barbra Streisand/Seth Rogan film, “The Guilt Trip.” There is plenty of guilt to go around.
Andy Brewster (Rogan) is a chemist who developed a natural cleaning product from renewable resources. He’s sunk his last pennies into the project and has been making the rounds of large retailers hoping to sell it.
He’s about to go on one last cross country sales trip before throwing in the towel. After flying to New Jersey, Andy is staying at his mother’s home and plans to leave from there on the eight-day journey. At the last minute, he invites his widowed mom, Joyce (Streisand), to accompany him.
And there you have the template for what no doubt was intended to be a heart-warming voyage of discovery, where mother and son find common bond and understanding. But “The Guilt Trip” breaks the mold — and not in a good way.
The Schlep Sisters showcase their bagel and cream cheese headdresses. Photo by Norman Blake.
Bacon tassels were a-twirling on June 24, just in time for Shabbat. In a jaw-dropping production at the non-profit Sideshows by the Seashore theater, mere steps from the Coney Island boardwalk, the fabulous Schlep Sisters celebrated bad Jewish girls and their love of shellfish, Spam and nude dancing.
Pulling back the curtain leading to “Treyf: The Non-Kosher Burlesque Show,” was like going back to a time when the boardwalk teemed with snake charmers, freak shows and burlesque. The Schlep Sisters, otherwise known as “Minnie Tonka” and “Darlinda Just Darlinda,” started off the show in ‘70s disco costumes, shimmying and stripping each other down to precariously pasted tassels, all to the techno beats of “Party in My Pants,” by Israeli musician Apollo Braun, a remixed version of Heveinu Shalom Aleichem. Definitely not your mother’s Jewish burlesque.
Philip Roth has “wised up” and stopped reading fiction.
The Washington Post profiles the last of Argentina’s Yiddish-speaking cowboys.
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek addresses a Tel Aviv BDS gathering, but talks mostly about European anti-Semitism.
How Jewish Pittsburgher Alan Paul became a rock star in China.
“They Hate Us Because We’re Blond,” says “Foreskin Man” creator Matthew Hess.
For decades, a French Jewish host of chat show and variety programs on radio and television has been famous locally for filling a Johnny Carson/Ed Sullivan role, but with the likeability of a Mike Douglas/Merv Griffin. At 68, Michel Drucker, born in Normandy of Romanian and Austrian ancestry, has been looking back at his Jewish family roots, which may be the source of his unique warmth.
After a 2007 memoir co-authored by Jean-François Kervéan, “What are We Going to Do With You?” (Mais qu’est-ce qu’on va faire de toi?) from Les Éditions Robert Laffont, he has produced, again with Kervéan and from Laffont, “Remind Me” (Rappelle-moi), which appeared at the end of October, 2010. Both books are loosely anecdotal narratives which alternate name-dropping with highly human, empathetic tributes to Drucker’s father, Abraham Drucker, and his mother, Lola Schafler.
Two Israeli films, “Restoration” by Yossi Madmony and “Zero Motivation” by Talya Lavie, picked up prizes at Sundance.
The Egyptian Museum was hit by looters, but it could have been worse.
Israeli filmmakers have received death threats over their film on the Gaza war.
Ian McEwan has defended his decision to accept the Jerusalem Prize, telling his critics, “I’m for finding out for myself, and for dialogue, engagement, and looking of ways in which literature, especially fiction, with its impulse to enter other minds, can reach across political divides.”
Just a few months after his son Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists in Karachi, Pakistan, Judea Pearl approached Rabbi Patricia Karlin-Neumann, Senior Associate Dean for Religious Life at Stanford University, about the possibility of organizing a concert in his son’s memory to take place around his birthday, October 10. “He wanted there to be a concert in every place Danny had lived,” explained Karlin-Neumann.
This year, during the month of October, over 6000 performances will take place in over 100 countries as part of the ninth annual Daniel Pearl World Music Days. To participate in this huge network of concerts, musicians need only register through the website set up by the Daniel Pearl Foundation and make a dedication from the stage to the theme of “Harmony for Humanity.” The project has attracted famous industry names such as Barbra Streisand, Herbie Hancock, Matisyahu and Elton John, as well as municipal orchestras, university music departments and garage jam bands. At Stanford, hundreds of people are expected to attend this year’s concert on October 7.