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The Golden Land

"Gold in the streets. So how was I supposed to know it was fool's gold?"— Peddler
In 1982, The Jewish Daily Forward commissioned a Yiddish-themed pageant to commemorate the newspaper's 75th anniversary. Zalmen Mlotek gathered a number of songs and skits from the collection of YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. The collection contained material from both the Yiddish theater and popular culture. The pageant was so successful Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld expanded it into a full-blown bilingual musical, which opened three years later at the Second Avenue Theatre.

This November The National Yiddish Theatre - Folksbiene is bringing the show back for five weeks, under the direction of Bryna Wasserman. With it comes the opportunity for European Jews to re-examine their roots and for others to learn about a culture that has had such a significant impact on the United States.

Many Jewish immigrants came to the United States convinced the streets were paved with gold. What they found on the Lower East Side were streets strewn with garbage and filled with people struggling to survive and succeed in their new home.

The immigrants may have been disappointed; but they were not defeated. The Golden Land traces the rise of these Jews from peddler to producer from operator to engineer. Many of the songs and skits refer to daily life: celebrating the Sabbath, writing to relatives back home, falling in love. But the show includes many historical events as well: the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, the labor movement, WWI, the Holocaust, the establishment of the State of Israel.

There are songs filled with bitterness: "We go to work to buy the food to get the strength to go to work." There are songs that express hope: "It's great to fight for freedom with a rebel girl." Mlotek and Rosenfeld do not shy away from the immigrants' brutal fight for survival, the discrimination their children still faced or the hopeless fight for the European Jews during the reign of the Nazis.

The Golden Land is performed by a superb cast of six singer/dancer/actors, Bob Ader, Cooper Grodin, Stacey Harris, Andrew Keltz, Daniella Rabbani, Sandy Rosenberg, and backed by a 7-piece klezmer band conducted by Mlotek. Together they perform familiar songs such as "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" and "Rumania, Rumania," as well as many songs that will be less familiar to younger members of the audience.

Although The Golden Land sets out to chart the Jewish experience in the United States, it ends up proving that the story of Jewish immigrants is really the story of the American nation. After all, what could be more American than the film industry, Broadway and a lot of Yiddish words that have effortlessly slipped into our vocabulary? The Golden Land lets us all kvell.

The Golden Land
Created by Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld
Directed by Bryna Wasserman
Cast: Bob Ader, Cooper Grodin Stacey Harris, Andrew Keltz, Daniella Rabbani, Sandy Rosenberg
The band: Zalmen Mlotek (conductor/piano), Taylor Bergen-Chrisman (Bass), John Carlson (Trumpet), Rima Fand (violin), Daniel Linden (trombone), Dmitri "Zisi" Slepovich (clarinet/piccolo/alto sax/flute), Matt Temkin (drums/percussion)
Set design: Roger Hanna
Costume design: Natasha Landau
Lighting design: Brian W. Barnett
Sound design: Bruce Ellman
Choreographer: Deanna Dys
Original orchestrations: Peter Sokolow
Running Time: 2hours, with one 15 minute intermission
The National Yiddish Theatre/ Folksbiene Baruch Performing Arts Center, 55 Lexington Avenue at 25th Street 212/213-2120
>From 10/28/12; opening 11/08/12; closing 12/02/12
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2pm and 7:30pm, Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 2pm and 6pm (check website for schedule changes)
Tickets: $55
Reviewed by Paulanne Simmons Nov. 11, 2012
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