BELZ! A JEWISH VAUDEVILLE MUSICAL
Whitefire Theatare
Reviewed by Carol Kaufman Segal

Belz is the name of a small Jewish shtetl (village or town) in Galicia (now part of Ukraine near the Polish border). The play, Belz! A Jewish Vaudeville Musical, was written and is directed by Pavel Cerny

The time is 1917 and young Hugo Schwartz (Andy Hirsch) , born and living in Belz, wants to be an actor who can make people laugh and cry. He is very close with his family, especially with his Papa (John Moskal). When the opportunity arises for Hugo to leave home, the place he loves, to pursue his dream, his Mama (Helen Siff) is adamant about his leaving his home and family. But Papa encourages him to fulfill his vision.

 

Hugo lands a job and is a big success. He also meets a lovely young lady, Rivka (Ashley Taylor) and they marry. Belz! portrays fifty years, from 1918 to 1968, in the life and career of Hugo Schwartz as he performs in small European towns, and then in the big cities like Prague, Vienna, and Paris. When Europe becomes too dangerous for the Jews, he leaves for America with Rifka, his daughter Erika, and stepson. He wows them at the Catskills and in New York City and continues to make people laugh and cry.

As the years go by, Hugo never forgets his homeland, Belz. He never stops talking about it. When he is older and his children offer him the gift of a ticket to visit Belz after all of these years, he realizes it could never be the same with the passing of time and everyone gone.

The story is humane and interesting, but what adds to the production is the music, the memorable Yiddish songs from way back when, that we still sing today. And it is entertaining hearing some of the old classic Jewish jokes and routines. It is a large cast, eighteen in all, many who play several parts. The musical accompaniment and background music is provided by Max the piano player (Ait Fetterolf, also a character in the play). He is astounding as he plays the piano almost non-stop throughout the production without using any music! The rest of the cast includes Tom Lazur, Kenn Schmidt, Bridget James, Charlie Stabile, Arthur Parian, Jade Duncan, Hallie Jordan, Richard Warren, Veronica Alcino, Vonica Alcino, Vano Kimmel, Lance Frantzich, Suzan Solomon, and Stasha Surdyke, as a wonderful chanteuse.

The play began a bit slow in the beginning, but as it nurtured, it improved. Possibly cutting the running time would be helpful. Belz! The Jewish Vaudeville Musical plays Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 3 PM through April 14, at the Whitefire Theatre, 13500 Ventura Blvd. in Sherman Oaks. For reservations, call

(800) 828-3006, or go on online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/276015  for online ticketing. For group sales, call Rosalie Lazarus at (818) 986-2908. Recommended.

Comments?  Write to us at: Letters@ReviewPlays.Com