Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE GOLDEN BRIDE (National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene)

by Dmitry Zvonkov on December 21, 2015

in Theater-New York

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A MAIL-ORDER BRIDE

I guess it’s my own fault, but when I read about The Golden Bride, a Yiddish operetta from 1923 that was lost in the 40s, found in the 80s, and is now enjoying its first off-Broadway run at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, I envisioned something covered with the thick patina of history and folklore, textured with age, quietly exotic, offering insights into a bygone era and a forgotten mythology. Instead what I found was a silly romantic comedy, naïve, sentimental, its staging by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene so professional, so polished and Hollywood-ized, that whatever texture the show might have had was now completely buffed out.

Jillian Gottlieb (Khanele) and Female Company in THE GOLDEN BRIDE. Photo by Ben Moody.

Abandoned by her parents at age 4, Goldele (Rachel Policar) learns upon reaching maturity that she is the heiress to a fortune in America. She leaves her Russian village for New York, promising her hand to whichever of her suitors can find her long lost mother. The primitive but serviceable story (libretto by Frieda Freiman) is finally little more than an excuse for the 17 buoyant musical numbers, composed by Joseph Rumshinsky and performed with joy and gusto by the gifted singers. The show boasts some outstanding vocalists, its stars Ms. Policar, and Cameron Johnson as Goldele’s childhood love Misha spring to mind. But most of Louis Gilrod’s lyrics say little, with songs going on twice as long as they need to. And although crisp and bright, as conducted by musical director Zalmen Muenter, the pieces lack sufficient emotional weight on occasions when such weight would be useful.

Adam Shapiro (Kalmen) and Company in THE GOLDEN BRIDE. Photo by Ben Moody. Cameron Johnson (Misha), Rachel Policar (Goldele), and Company in THE GOLDEN BRIDE. Photo by Ben Moody.

In general there is a flatness to this production, co-directed by Bryna Wasserman and Motl Didner, evident immediately in Yael Lubetzky’s lighting and John Dinning’s set. The intention here seems to be to recreate, sort-of, what this show might have looked like at Kessler’s Second Avenue Theater 92 years ago. But the result is just a flat-looking set. For all its professionalism, The Golden Bride feels like it was designed to be as inoffensive and square as possible—Yiddish-light, one might call it—for its mostly older Jewish audience. That said, as a bit of quaint musical entertainment, the show works. But if you do go, take your seats early. My experience is that the theater overbooks, which leads to hysteria among the ushers and a default first-come, first-served seating policy, whether one is in one’s own seat or not.

Glenn Seven Allen (Jerome), Adam Shapiro (Kalmen), and Company in THE GOLDEN BRIDE. Photo by Ben Moody.

In Yiddish, with English and Russian supertitles.

Additional cast: Bob Ader, Glenn Seven Allen, Lisa Fishman, Regina Gibson, Jillian Gottlieb, Bruce Rebold, and Adam B. Shapiro. With chorus/ensemble members including: Nelson Bettencourt, Adam Kaster, Jessica Kennedy, Amy Laviolette, Joseph Mace, Isabel Nesti, Zachary Spiegel, Tatiana Wechsler, and Jeremy Weiss.

Regina Gibson, Jillian Gottlieb (Khanele), and Amy Laviolette in THE GOLDEN BRIDE. Photo by Ben Moody.

photos by Ben Moody

The Golden Bride
National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene [NYTF]
Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place at First Place
Wed & Thurs at 2 & 7:30; Sat at 7:30; Sun at 2 & 6
(check for additional performances)
ends on January 3, 2016
RETURN ENGAGEMENT July 4–August 28, 2016
free bus service from midtown
for tickets, call 866.811.4111 or visit NYTF

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Sharon Frankel December 27, 2015 at 10:18 am

Flew in from Florida just to experience live Yiddish theater; what a treat. The cast was impeccable. Will there be a CD for sale as I am still humming tunes from the show?

Hurrah, bravo, well done.

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Editor-in-Chief Tony Frankel December 27, 2015 at 11:09 am

We only cover shows here at Stage and Cinema, Sharon. For more info on a future CD, contact the producers, National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene, at (212) 213-2120 or info@nytf.org.

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Harvey Gerenstein July 27, 2016 at 5:55 pm

I cannot understand why this company does not have CD’s of the shows. So many people in the audience wanted a CD.

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