It has taken years and many people, to restore the book and score of the 1923 The Golden Bride which was last performed in 1948. A concert performance by the National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene in May 2014 laid the groundwork for the current full-blown staging with its large cast, orchestra, sets and costumes, zestfully co-directed by Bryna Wasserman and Motl Didner with not so great, but energetic, choreography by Merete Muenter.
Although not exactly Shakespeare, let alone Show Boat, The Golden Bride is still important and must be preserved. It represents the life story of millions of Jewish immigrants with its idealized shtetl and gold-plated America. The Act One shtetl is nothing like the poverty-stricken, hidebound places that actually existed, but the sense of tradition and closeness of those communities comes across the footlights. The Act Two America/New York is painted as a place where success is guaranteed for all For instance, the Act One matchmaker, Kalmen (a robust Adam B. Shapiro), becomes the dandy, man-about-town Clem (!) in Act Two.
The Golden Bride is full of characters the early twentieth century Jewish immigrant audiences would identify with and know well, types that were culturally important like the ardent romantic suitor Misha; the poor orphaned girl Goldele; Yankl, an exaggeratedly deaf tailor; Berke, the cobbler, and other characters who inhabited that world.
Goldele (Rachel Policar), the title character, is a poor orphan, adopted by a loving couple, innkeepers, Pinchas and Toybe (Bruce Rebold and Lisa Fishman) who suddenly comes into a vast fortune through her Uncle Benjamin (Bob Adler) who wants her to come to America.
She is besieged with marriage proposals. Benjamin wants his son, Jerome (Glenn Steve Allen), an actor, to marry Goldele, but he is infatuated with Pinchas and Toybe’s lovely daughter, Khanele (Jillian Gottlieb) with whom he has an absolutely hilariously over-the-top scene in Act Two.
The most ardent wooer is handsome Misha (Cameron Johnson), the innkeepers’ student son (and brother to Khanele), but Goldele adamantly announces that she will only marry the suitor who finds her birth mother whom she remembers mostly through a lovely lullaby, “Viglid (Lullaby).”
She moves to America (probably New York) and becomes a chic party giver, still mooning over her long lost mother whom she had last seen when she was four. Several suitors present false mothers who almost convince Goldele.
Does she find true love? Does she find her mother? Does she get married? This is Yiddish theater—what do you think?
The buoyant score by Joseph Rumshinsky (music) and Louis Gilrod (lyrics) is the engine that keeps Frieda Freiman’s libretto afloat. There are klezmer-inflected songs, a tango, anthems, sweet showbizzy group numbers and a great finale—spoiler alert!—wedding scene. Zalmen Mlotek, the conductor and music director, has obtained exciting sounds from his large band.
The sets by John Dinning were both efficient and expressive at the same time, while Izzy Fields’ costumes look like a million dollars, particularly the twenties-style gowns for the ladies in Act Two.
The fact that most of the cast were not Jewish, let alone Yiddish speakers, makes their joyous, full-bodied performances all the more impressive.
The Golden Bride will appeal to theater mavens of all denominations. Its emotional kick is universal.
The Golden Bride (Di Goldene Kale) (return engagement July 4 – August 28, 2016)
National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene
Edmond J. Safra Hall at Museum of Jewish Heritage, 36 Battery Place, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit http://www.nytf.org
Running time: two hours and 15 minutes including one intermission