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Jewish Thighs on Broadway: Super Trouper

Abigail Paine had finally reached her goal in life. She was playing her dream role of Aldonza in Man of La Mancha at a Broadway theatre and was getting the full star treatment. And that's when she knew she wanted out of show business.

Perhaps her decision was somewhat influenced by the fact that the Broadway theatre in question was actually the Broadway's Best Dinner Theatre in Orlando, Florida (She was hired to help authenticate the company's claim of employing "Top New York Talent.") and the star treatment she received consisted of a room at the Days Inn on the Interstate, use of the company Pinto (with free gas) and, before every performance, all she could eat from the theatre's unlimited buffet.

Abigail Paine was born Miriam Rosen, but her real identity is that of Penny Orloff, who wrote and stars in this solo piece. Although the character is meant to be fictional, the similarities between Paine and Orloff are numerous. To say that an author and protagonist both played Aldonza in a Florida dinner theatre and both played several principal roles at New York City Opera could be considered a case of a writer drawing from her own experience. But when both also played small roles in a short-lived, Harold Prince-directed musical penned by Betty Comden and Adolph Green... well, that's leaning a bit towards autobiography.

Actors in the audience, especially women perhaps, will find many reasons to smile with recognition at the events described in Jewish Thighs On Broadway, subtitled Misadventures of a Little Trooper. It's a lovingly-told tribute to those who still passionately pursue a life in the theatre despite minimal success. From dealing with over-aged and horny leading men to having an ex-lover write a play about you and being told you weren't the right type for the role, Miriam/Abigail/Penny has suffered through the usual indignities for the sake of her art; although being shot at by her understudy may be more of a unique occurrence.

Then, of course, there's the whole physical appearance issue. Though perfectly attractive enough to have a parade of men fighting for her attentions, her "Jewish thighs" seemed to get in the way of a successful career in musical theatre. After dieting attempts were thwarted by her internal beast ("This creature can kill, dismember and devour an entire cheesecake.") she found her figure to be a welcome presence in the world of classical music. ("Though I was a tub of lard, I was a willow by opera standards.")

As directed by Vladimir Lapinsky, Ms. Orloff is a sweet and charming presence, narrating the story while acting out an assortment of characters, as is expected in a play such as this. Though the anecdotes and feelings she shares are rather common for an actress whose been in the business for over thirty years, her friendly demeanor and self-effacing humor are enjoyable and authentic. She sings a bit, accompanied by musical director Jose C. Simbulan, in a soft, legit soprano that seems better suited for her operatic selections than the few showtunes included. Doralyn Leone appears on stage occasionally in a silent bit as her dresser.

There was a fun bit of informality at the preview performance I attended. When an audience member let out a hearty laugh, Ms. Orloff (or perhaps it was Ms. Paine) laughed along with him. At one point she interrupted the proceedings to say she's been performing this piece for five and a half years but cuts some of the language and sexual situations when playing senior centers. After the show she took questions from the audience, asked that we stay a minute longer to hear the talented Mr. Simbulan sing a solo, and reminded us that the published novel of Jewish Thighs on Broadway is available for sale in the lobby.

Before most of the audience was out the door, Ms. Orloff was back in the house, coming up to anyone remaining and personally thanking them for coming to see her play. I'm not going to say Jewish Thighs on Broadway is one of the highlights of the current theatre season, but simple likability can go a long way to soften a playgoers heart. And Penny Orloff is just so darn likable.


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From This Author Michael Dale

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