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broadway musicals: a jewish legacy

Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy © Joe Skinner/Ghost Light FilmsPerformer David Hyde Pierce and pianist Andy Einhorn.
Performers David Hyde Pierce and pianist Andy Einhorn in

If you like musicals [and, really, who doesn’t], then a film showing at the Jewish International Film Festival called BROADWAY MUSICALS: A JEWISH LEGACY will certainly please you. This is simply because in it you will see and hear a parade of world-famous singers, ranging from Al Jolson and Ethel Merman to Lena Horne and Barbra Streisand, perform some of the most enduring songs of the 20th century, all of which were written by Jewish composers and lyricists, ranging from Jerome Kern and George Gershwin to Lerner and Lowe, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.

But, perhaps because of the capable direction of Michael Kantor, there is much more to this film than this. It has several points to make, and it makes them tellingly.

One is that a small group of Jewish composers produced a truly breath -taking body of work which was based so often on Jewish folk and synagogue melodies. Amazingly,almost every major composer of musicals was Jewish. Even one exception who springs to mind, the great Cole Porter, the film points out, was unsuccessful until he began writing, to use his own words, “Jewish music”.

The film also demonstrates how, at first, their musicals were about outsiders, as a metaphor for themselves[“My Fair Lady”,” Hello, Dolly!”], but then developed to focus on themes further removed, but still connected, to  Jewishness, such as race [“Showboat”, “South Pacific”] and anti-Semitism [“Cabaret”]. So mature did the music and lyrics then become that even Nazism [“The Producers”], homosexuality [“La Cage Aux Folles”] and faith itself [“Fiddler on the Roof”] could be, and were, explored.

 This film includes rare and delightful footage of Irving Berlin singing, Rogers and Hammerstein working together, and Mel Brooks speaking sensibly.

This is an intelligent documentary. The commentary is both clear and pertinent, thereby helping the viewer appreciate the creativity, and the risks taken, by a roll-call of gifted composers and lyricists who, between them, produced most of the great musicals of our time .Above all though-there is, throughout the entire film, the music itself, and, as the song goes-who could ask for anything more!

BROADWAY MUSICALS: A JEWISH LEGACY Is screening twice at the Festival on Thursday October 31 and November 9, 2013. For more information and bookings visit the Festival site on


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