Yiddish Theatre classic On Second Avenue hits Segal Centre stage
June 27, 2012 | Mike Cohen - Quebec Bureau Chief
MONTREAL – It is a little bit of déjà vu at Montreal’s renowned Segal Centre for Performing Arts (formerly the Saidye Bronfman Centre). Fourteen years after first gracing this same stage, On Second Avenue is back on the main stage through July 1.
Acclaimed throughout Montreal, New York, Toronto and Vienna, On Second Avenue was first staged in 1987 Off-Broadway to great success, starring Mary Soreanu. In 2005, the show was revived to critical-acclaim by the National Yiddish Theatre (Folksbiene), in co-production with the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre (DWYT) in New York, garnering a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Revival of a Musical, and another for its lead actor Mike Burstyn. In 1998, the show was produced by the Segal Centre, under the direction of Bryna Wasserman with musical direction by Elan Kunin. A unanimous success with critics and audiences, On Second Avenue remains one of the most successful plays ever put on by the DWYT
Segal Centre Artistic Producer Paul Flicker shared with the Jewish Tribune his joy at remounting this classic.
“It has been an incredible experience reviving this seminal piece of the Dora Wasserman Yiddish Theatre,” he said. “It is a real combination of tradition and change. We have had the pleasure of working with many veterans of the Yiddish Theatre company and many of our favourite actors. At the same time, there has been an infusion of new blood with co-director Audrey Finkelstein and many first-time Yiddish Theatre performers and designers. It has been an incredible fusion of experience and passion, which makes for great theatre.”
As for his biggest challenge, Flicker admitted, “There is much that is new: new numbers, new choreography, new musical direction and orchestrations, a fantastic new set, hundreds of new costumes and many, many new performers.
“Integrating a cast of 35 with a live band, a massive new set and scores of costumes is always a challenge. The results, however, are spectacular.”
Yiddish Theatre, added Finkelstein, still has a loyal following in Montreal.
“Having been a part of the community for over 50 years we still have a substantial following,” she remarked. “The Yiddish speaking audience is much smaller than it used to be, so one of our goals is to start building a new audience, while still appealing to our current followers. Although we are a repertoire company, we aim to bring in new talent and pair them with our veteran performers who have been with us since the beginning.”
Honourary Artistic Director of the DWYT, Wasserman has returned to Montreal to co-direct this musical revue with Finkelstein, the artistic and program coordinator for the centre. It is being presented in Yiddish, with English and French supertitles.
A musical journey through Yiddish Theatre, On Second Avenue traces the history of Yiddish theatre from its inception in 19th century Romania to its golden age in 1930s New York, when the Lower East Side street of Second Avenue, known as ‘Knish Alley’ thrived as the Broadway of Yiddish theatre. A collection of toe-tapping songs, vignettes and dance numbers drawing from the rich Yiddish theatre tradition form this vibrant musical conceived by Yiddish theatre legends Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld.
Featuring a large ensemble of actors and a live band, musical numbers pay tribute to the great Yiddish theatre performers such as Abraham Goldfaden, Ida Kaminska and Molly Picon. On Second Avenue is a nostalgic trip sure to please lovers of Yiddish culture and musical theatre alike.
“This production of On Second Avenue celebrates great Yiddish artists and their vital contribution to the American culture as we know it today,” said Flicker,
For more ticket information, log on to www.segalcentre.org or call (514) 739-7944. The Segal Centre is at 5170 Cote Ste. Catherine Rd.