Film: Broadway Musicals, a Jewish Legacy
The documentary, narrated by Joel Grey, explores the unique role of Jewish composers and lyricists, in the creation of the modern American musical. Over the 50-year period of its development, the songs of the Broadway musical were created almost exclusively by Jewish Americans.
Featuring interviews and conversations with some of the greatest composers and writers of the Broadway stage, Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy showcases the work of some of the nation’s pre-eminent creators of musical theatre including Irving Berlin, Jerome Kern, George and Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Kurt Weill, Sheldon Harnick, Jerry Bock, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim, Stephen Schwartz, Jule Styne and many others.
The documentary demonstrates how there were echoes of Jewish strains in many of the works. From “Yiddishkeit” (all things Jewish) on the stages of the Lower East Side at the turn of the century to a wide range of shows including Porgy and Bess, West Side Story and
One of the most poignant clips is Irving Berlin singing God Bless America in rehearsal for Gypsy. Another interesting song is It Ain’t Necessarily So, the tune of which, quite unknown to most of us, is based on the blessing of a Torah reading “Barchu et Adonay Hamevorach”. We all know, of course, that the number one Christmas song White Christmas was written by Irving Berlin.
Except maybe for Fiddler on the Roof, the musicals written by Jews did not tell Jewish stories, but stories about outsiders. They used somebody else’s story by telling their own. Furthermore, the theme of Fiddler on the Roof, ‘Tradition’, became so universal that all cultures adopted it as their own. It is heartwarming to realize that these brilliant musicians gave a Jewish legacy to America, and an American legacy to the world.
The program began with greetings by Lisa Cohen Quay, director of the seniors department of the JCC. Ken Levitt, president of JSA, encouraged people to suggest topics of interest for further programs. Refreshments were served following the program.
Written by Tamara Frankel
Photography by Alan Katowitz