MEESTER AMERIKA Brings Yiddish Theater Back To Life
New York's Yiddish Theater of the 1920s returns to riotous life in the Garage Theatre Group's World Premiere of Meester Amerika in Teaneck this February. Meester Amerika revives the comedy and the music of New York's Lower East Side in a toe-tapping new musical for the whole family. The show opens February 12 at the Becton Theatre, 960 River Road in Teaneck.
Meester Amerika is the story of the Rose family, popular entertainers in the Yiddish Theater as they try to succeed in the strange country of America. In particular, it's the story of Joey, the handsome young headliner who "against his family's wishes" wants to become a Cantor. When Joey meets a girl from the right side of the tracks, chaos follows. Through a maelstrom of cross-dressing relatives, mistaken identities, and shattered illusions, Joey learns what it really means to be "Mister America."
"Through the play, we follow the lives of these characters both offstage and onstage," says director Michael Bias, who is also the artistic director of the Garage Theatre Group. "Think of it as a Valentine to the Yiddish Theater."
Heartfelt and hilarious,Meester Amerika blends farce with swing and just a hint of schmaltz. The musical's book is by Jennifer Berman, with music by Artie Bressler and lyrics by Michael Colby, Meester Amerika is directed by Michael Bias, with musical direction by Victoria Casella. The cast includes Jeff Keller, Amy London and David B. Perlman, among many others.
"The basic plot of Meester Amerika is The Jazz Singer stood on its head," says author Jennifer Berman, a TV and Broadway veteran who began working on the script almost a decade ago. "In The Jazz Singer""the first sound movie ever""a young man from a religious family wants to become an entertainer. Turning that situation around turns a melodrama into a comedy, but it's still a situation that resonates with any immigrant group."
The lively score for Meester Amerika features both classic music from the Yiddish Theater and new songs by composer Arnie Bressler and lyricist Michael Colby (Drama Desk Award nominee for Charlotte Sweet). The traditional songs in the show include "Raisins and Almonds", "Rumania," and a half-dozen others that will ring familiar to many.
"We hope the audience won't be able to tell the difference between the new songs and the traditional ones," says composer Arnie Bressler, whose credits include music for the Pulitzer-Prize winning Crimes of the Heart.
Meester Amerika features a multi-talented cast of actors from Broadway and regional theaters. The title role of Joey Rose-Mister America-is played by David B. Perlman. Perlman, who has appeared in musicals in New York and around the country (originating the title role in the award-winning Calvin Berger), is making a return to the Garage Theatre-as a teenager, he trained with the company's Youth Conservatory.
Marcus Rose, Yiddish theater impresario and head of the Rose clan, is played by Broadway veteran Jeff Keller-an original cast member of such musicals as The 1940s Radio Hour (Drama Desk Award nominee),Personals, and Phantom of the Opera (the first American to play "The Phantom" on Broadway).
Yetta Rose, strong-minded performer determined to live life on her own terms, is portrayed by jazz vocalist Amy London. London has performed for years a New York clubs including the Blue Note and Dizzy's, and was an original cast member of City of Angels. The cast of Meester America also includes Ben Rauch (of Emerald Man and TV's Ed), Steve Sterner (the Pirate King in Folksbeine's Pirates of Penzance), Malorie Charak, Rachel Gordon, Jerry Lazar, Clifton Lewis, and Melissa Schoenberg.
MEESTER AMERIKA was a finalist for the 2007 New Jewish Theatre Grant (given by the National Foundation for Jewish Culture) and one of the winning musicals in The 7th Annual TRU Musicals Reading Series (Bob Ost, artistic director).
The World Premiere production of Meester Amerika opens Thursday, February 12 and runs through Sunday, March 1. Performances are Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, and Sunday matinees at 3 pm. Tickets are $35 ($30 for seniors and children under 12). Discounts for group sales are available. For tickets and more information, contact the Garage Theatre at (201) 569-7710 or online at garagetheatregroup.org
Recognized in 2003 as Bergen County's Number 1 Arts Organization by the Bergen County Division of Cultural and Historic Affairs, Garage Theatre Group is a not-for-profit theater in residence at the Becton Theatre on the Metropolitan Campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck. The Garage is a Senior Member of the New Jersey Theatre Alliance.