A Jewish Vaudeville Musical”
Author-director, Pavel Cerny, originally conceived BELZ! as a reenactment of a Yiddish revue, then added the story of young Hugo Schwartz (Andy Hirsch), who in 1918 leaves his home town of Belz, Ukraine, to pursue his dream of making people laugh. As Hugo goes from his teens to old age we see the vaudeville routines that led to the successes of many of our greatest comics.
Sure, the acts are corny, the performers gauche, the story meandering and the classic Yiddish jokes groan-worthy, but still Jewish cabaret had an irreverence that said – life is tough enough so stop taking it so seriously. There is zest for life here but, at 3 hours with intermission, the show is too long and could be shortened by cutting out the blackouts and letting the action flow.As Hugo, Andy Hirsch makes a remarkable transition from an eager 18 year old to a star in vaudeville, to an old trouper living with his memories. He is especially poignant in the scenes of loss, and shows us that what gives Hugo the strength to go on is the expression of his talent. Life happens, but laughter heals.
Notable among the large cast are John Moscal as Hugo’s Papa; Ashley Taylor as his wife and Tom Lazur as his best friend. Stasha Surdyke, sings beautifully in Yiddish, Hungarian, Czech and German, while musical director, Ait Fetterolf, doubles as Max, the onstage Piano Player. Hair and make-up by Marissa Maynes, costumes by Travis Thi, and choreography by Sandy Simona Levitan aptly reveal the changing styles and periods.
BELZ! is at the Whitefire Theatre, Sherman Oaks, through May. Tickets: (800) 838-3006 or (818) 986-2908 or www.brownpapertickets.com.
Review by Morna Murphy Martell for NOT BORN YESTERDAY