BWW Review: Peyton Lusk is a Charmer as Jule Styne's BAR MITZVAH BOY

With a name like BAR MITZVAH BOY, it should be no surprise that the current musical at the York is a coming of age story. What is surprising is that the composer of this intimate piece is Jule Styne, better known for brassy star vehicles like GYPSY and FUNNY GIRL.

BWW Review:  Peyton Lusk is a Charmer as Jule Styne's BAR MITZVAH BOY
Peyton Lusk (Photo: Ben Strothmann)

The second entry in the company's trio of Musicals in Mufti concert productions honoring the classic Broadway composer (SUBWAYS ARE FOR SLEEPING will follow) BAR MITZVAH BOY might be considered an obscurity by even the most devoted Broadway connoisseur.

For one thing, it never played on Broadway. Its source is Jack Rosenthal's same-named play written for a 1975 BBC telecast. The playwright then penned the book for a 1978 West End production, with Don Black providing lyrics, whose short run is generally blamed on the extravagant production overshadowing the quiet realism of the story. The 1987 New York premiere by American Jewish Theater was an attempt to Americanize the show, with Martin Gottfried revising the book to change the 1970s British setting to 1946 Brooklyn.

The York's concert production uses a book penned by David Thompson, which restores the story's British roots and aims to bring back the intimacy of Rosenthal's original teleplay.

The grandest special effects in director Annette Jolles' mounting are the charismatic smile, confident singing voice and engaging personality of Peyton Lusk, who does a terrific job as the title character, Eliot Green.

Eliot is pensive about his upcoming bar mitzvah, perhaps because becoming a man means he'll be more like the questionable role models he sees in his family. The slight story involves the pressure the lad feels seeing his parents (Lori Wilner and Ned Eisenberg) bickering over details of the ceremony, determined to impress their large gathering of guests, leading to the boy's act of rebellion against the whole mishegas.

BWW Review:  Peyton Lusk is a Charmer as Jule Styne's BAR MITZVAH BOY
Ned Eisenberg, Julie Benko, Ben Fankhauser,
Peyton Lusk and Lori Wilner (Photo: Ben Strothmann)

Meanwhile, his sister (Julie Benko) is establishing the dynamics of her relationship with her new boyfriend (Ben Fankhauser). Eliot's grandfather (Tim Jerome), rabbi (Neal Benari) and school chum (Casey Watkins) all offer him advice, but, despite a fine cast, BAR MITZVAH BOY's plot never amounts to anything more than the generic realization that your family may be a pain, but they're what you've got.

Black's lyrics, as is typical for his work, never rise above serviceable and while Styne's melodies (played on piano by music director Darren R. Cohen) are pleasant, they're not especially inspired.

But one of the reasons concert productions like this exist is for the opportunity to sample shows by the great masters that aren't exactly ripe for a commercial run, and the York should be commended for presenting this obscurity.

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From This Author Michael Dale

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