Presented by the Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre at the JCC, 334 Amsterdam Ave., NYC, Dec. 2-Jan. 2.
The Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre continues to make history. Not only is it celebrating its 90th season as America's oldest continuing theatre, but it is also offering a musical play by Abraham Goldfaden, the founding father of Yiddish theatre. "A Novel Romance" premiered in Romania in 1877 and reached these shores in 1882, thus moving this country into the Golden Age of Yiddish theatre.
Considering that Goldfaden was not so much a playwright as a director-entrepreneur, it is amazing that his slapdash shows are so enduring. In this case, the show mixes satire and burlesque, music and melodrama, to the delight of past and present audiences.
The story deals with the distraught father of an unmarried daughter. Khane (the daughter) reads trashy German romance novels and longs for a storybook suitor. He will be beardless, German-speaking, and named Franz. Just such a man appears, but he is a penniless con artist. Goldfaden is satirizing intellectual and social pretensions, particularly mocking Jews who look down on homely Yiddish and aspire to German, the language of culture at the time.
For this new production, adapter-director Allen Lewis Rickman has trimmed the original songs and added others in the spirit of the show—and provided overhead English translations. It is a good-natured production, with zesty musical accompaniment offered by Annette Ezekiel and Alicia Jo Rabins and captivating dance numbers performed by David Mandelbaum and Mitchell Greenberg. Ibi Kaufman makes a lovely, spirited Khane, but reveals an indifferent singing voice. Thus her solo numbers are flat. Mandelbaum plays it over the top as the father, but why not? This is Yiddish theatre! Sam Guncler and Steve Sterner, two thoroughgoing pros, round out the cast, keeping it on a professional level. And Vicki Davis' set designs—painted backdrops—add a storybook charm to the proceedings.
In all, this nostalgic trip is as comforting as chicken soup.