by Lynn on June 5, 2017

in The Passionate Playgoer

At the Greenwin Theatre, Toronto, Ont.

Written by Michael Ross Albert
Based on the play Day of Atonement by Samson Raphaelson
Directed and Choreographed by Tim French
Musical director, Mark Camilleri
Set by Robin Fisher
Lighting by Siobhán Sleath
Costumes by Alex Amini
Sound by Emily Porter
Cast: Patrick Cook
Adriana Crivici
Aaron Ferguson
Ryan Gifford
Kaylee Harwood
W. Joseph Matheson
Luke Opdahl
Jivaro Smith
Theresa Tova
Victoria Whistance-Smith
Victor A. Young

The age old story of wanting to follow your dream but fighting against the guilt of disappointing your family. The production is respectable but the script needs work.

The Story. Jack Robins is about to get his big Broadway break. Broadway star, Mary Dale wants Jack to be in her new Broadway review. He’s eager for that but there is the matter of his guilt. Eight years before, when he was known as Jacob Rabinowitz, he left his family in New York to seek his fortune in Chicago as a jazz singer known as Jack Robins, His father, Cantor Yoselle Rabinowitz wanted Jack to follow in the family business and be a cantor at his father’s synagogue. Jack refused and he and his father have not spoken in eight years.

He comes home to face his family and see if there can be a reconciliation and of course to work on Broadway. Will he be forgiven? Will the guilt prevail?

The Production. Director Timothy French has fashioned a respectable production of this song and dance show. His choreography is lively, albeit the same for the many scenes in the jazz clubs. Robin Fisher’s sets for the various locations (Chicago, New York, Jack’s parents’ home etc.) are simple, efficient and move smoothly from place to place without disruption.

French wanted to recreate the music of the jazz scene in the late 1920s so he has packed the show with the standards of George Gershwin, Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Jule Styne etc.

As Jack Robins (born Jacob Rabinowitz), Patrick Cook has those boyish good looks that charm and disarm anyone. He dances with confidence and sings beautifully, although you have to wait until the third song, “The Birth of the Blues” to be aware of “the teardrop in his voice” as Jack has been described. Cook does present a character who is conflicted about his allegiances. Should he be true to his dreams and follow them thus offending his family, or does he put his dreams aside and follow the dictates of his father and mother and become a cantor in the synagogue?

Kaylee Harwood is sassy and sophisticated as Mary Dale. She has the poise and confidence of a Broadway star so Jack would have been attracted to that commanding behaviour. She can also handle her dilemma too: courted by two men and in love with one of them. She keeps putting off the other, to whom she is engaged. And Harwood also sings beautifully.

Jack’s parents, Cantor Yoselle Rabinowitz and his wife Sara are a contrast in behaviour. Yoselle, as played by Victor A. Young, is a straight-ahead, direct, rigid man who sees only his side of the story, and no one else’s. He is confident that he wants only the best for Jack and Jack should agree.

Sara, as played by Theresa Tova is the loving mother, welcoming and open-hearted. She is also manipulating, conniving, secretive and underhanded. She has no problem putting the guilt screws on Jack. We are aware of this underhanded behaviour slowly as more and more revelations appear. But Tova’s singing of “Make Someone Happy” is gut-wrenching.

Jivaro Smith, as Oscar Davis, is a multi-talented singer/daner/actor. He acts as a loving surrogate father to Jack. Oscar has his own issues. As a black man he feels that he would never be a Broadway star. (now there is a subject for a musical). Smith offers strong support to Patrick Cook.

Comment. It seems that a lot of people had a hand in working on the script for this show. Even the producers offered suggestions. It was slapped into shape by Michael Ross Albert (who wrote Tough Jews). How then to explain the many holes and inconsistencies in the story?

In Jack’s life his parents didn’t play the good cop/bad cop, which certainly would have been more interesting dramatically. They both were in cahoots but in different ways. Both had the intension of making Jack feel as guilty as possible for deciding to leave for Chicago to become a jazz singer and not stay home and become a cantor. His father was blunt. His mother was more manipulative. Jack’s father is ill. His mother lies to him saying his father wants Jack to forgive him and he has to come home so it can be done. She puts the guilt on him about his father’s condition Jack rushes home and finds his mother there. His father is in the hospital. Why then isn’t she with her husband since his condition is so grave?

His mother suggests that Jack should ask forgiveness for leaving and breaking his father’s heart. Oy, the tyranny of parents (as one woman was heard to say after the show), thus showing she didn’t have a clue that her son was entitled to some happiness.

There are two instances of anti-semitic remarks which do show the feelings at that time. In both instances these are references to pejorative and stereotypical attitudes about how Jews do business. In both cases Jack is a witness to the remarks but says nothing because no one knows he’s Jewish. In the second instance Jack’s stage manager? Company manager? throws the insult to Jack as if he knew that Jack was Jewish, but that can’t be because Jack has not revealed it to anyone (except perhaps Mary and I don’t get the sense Mary would gossip this anyone). Hmmm?

I can see the allure of the piece: family drama, being true to ones dreams, and making the hard decisions. I just wished the writing and story were tighter.

Presented by The Harold Green Jewish Theatre Company and Dancap.

Began: May 23, 2017.
I saw it: May 28, 2017.
Closes: June 18, 2017.
Cast: 11; 8 men, 3 women.
Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes approx.

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