New Yiddish Rep recreates the bawdy, boisterous and often backbiting atmosphere of a Yiddish music hall on the Lower East Side a century ago with the first of several planned “Seltzer Nights” beginning Saturday March 21 at 7pm. The launch of the “Seltzer Nights” project, which incubates at the Castillo Theatre, 543 West 42nd Street, for four Saturdays through the spring, culminates in a daring new original American musical in English and Yiddish (the premiere of which will be announced at a later date).
Currently scheduled performances are Saturdays March 21, April 18, May 9 and June 13, all at 7pm.
Co-created by Shane Baker, Beck Lee, Frank London and David Mandelbaum, “Seltzer Nights” gets its first fizz as a darkly theatrical cabaret, in which the Yiddish vaudeville genre (which, incidentally, had a seismic impact on American popular entertainment from the heyday of radio to the modern sitcom) is re-interpreted for a modern audience. The process, hosted by the multicultural Castillo Theatre, will be open to a widely diverse, mostly non-Yiddish-speaking audience.
Incorporating some of the more risqué vintage songs and comedy routines from a neglected treasure trove of material, “Seltzer Nights” will also bring to life some of the more blatantly theatrical moments of popular melodrama — on and off-stage — that were all the rage on a Second Avenue that was once dotted with theatres.
Summoning up the spirits of legends like Molly Picon, Jenny Goldstein, Jacob Adler, Boris Thomashefsky, Menasha Skulnik, Dzigan and Schumackher, and Fanny Brice, plus a cavalcade of the long-since forgotten, “Seltzer Nights” introduces us to the colorful and strange troupe members (and audience regulars) of a fictional Yiddish music hall, The Golden Beacon, located on a side-street off Delancey.
With music direction by the international klezmer superstar Frank London, this star-infested production features a who’s-who of the booming downtown Yiddish theater and music scene, including the ridiculously talented, bi-lingual actor-singer-musicians Shane Baker, Daniella Rabbani, David Mandelbaum, Tanya Solomon, Michael Winograd, Amy Coleman, Steve Sterner, Marian Rich and Ilan Kwittken. The shows are performed in a hybrid of English and Yiddish, with new simultaneous translation techniques and off-stage improvisation keeping non-Yiddish-speaking audiences grounded in the action.
The serialized development process allows the company to layer in character and context, audience integration and new translation techniques, as well as scenic effects in a way that will make “Seltzer Nights” one of the most daring and innovative Yiddish theatrical enterprises to bubble up in decades.
New Yiddish Rep, which is responsible for producing the internationally acclaimed Yiddish “Waiting for Godot” (that got its start at Castillo, and most recently performed at the Barrow Street Theatre in September), nurtures a small and dynamic subculture of performers steeped in the traditions and rituals of the Yiddish theatre. Many of these performers have worked with the last generation of genuine Yiddish theatre veterans, and are now schooling the younger members of the scene.
New Yiddish Rep is committed to training this next generation of artists to perform in Yiddish and add to a cultural legacy, that, despite its near disappearance in daily conversation (except for the Orthodox community) still exerts a huge cultural impact on American humor in the broadest sense and Jewish culture in the narrowest sense.
“Seltzer Nights” will keep you up at night… just like a good pastrami sandwich! Performances are on four Saturdays — March 21, April 18, May 9 and June 13, all at 7pm. Tickets are $35. Four-show packages are $100 and must be purchased before March 14. For tickets call Ovation Tix at 866/811-4111, www.newyiddishrep.org or visit the Castillo Theatre box office, 543 West 42nd Street.