‘Jew Grows in Brooklyn’ blends humor, horror

The production "A Jew Grows in Brooklyn" — which closed a three-performance run Sunday at the Suncoast — was a step forward for the newly formed Jewish Repertory Theatre of Nevada.

The touring one-man show, backed by an onstage three-member band, seemed to be just what the (apparently) New York Jewish audience wanted. Whenever performer Jake Ehrenreich so much as mentioned a street in the Golden Borough, groups of people would applaud, or shout out their own memories of the place.

Ehrenreich’s production was peppered with cliche Yiddish jokes, but it was unusual in how it blended simple humor with real-life horror stories. Ehrenreich’s parents were Holocaust survivors, and it wasn’t until the 54-year-old was well into his life that he realized what that really meant — and what responsibility those events put on him. He ultimately learned that it’s not events that shape our emotional health, it’s our perception of them.

The script sometimes wanders, and sounds too much like a self-help rally (as does the Ehrenreich’s simply written book of the same name on which the script is based). At times the performer’s humor lacked bite. But Ehrenreich’s likable stage presence and his belief in what he was doing gave the evening an electrical charge. He brought warmth to the room.

Ehrenreich kept surprising with his talents. He has a dancer’s master of his body, is a first-rate stand-up comedian, a virtuoso impressionist (his re-enactment of a string of mediocre Catskill comics was dead on), a capable writer, a magnetic singer (he can do funny, but also does poignant with a couple of sweetly sung Yiddish lullabies), and makes magic with a sliding trombone, trumpet and percussion. (He also co-directed with Jon Huberth.) It made for an unusual diversion for the Jewish Rep, and a welcomed one.

Wish I could say equally nice things about "A Little Song and Dance," a benefit performance for the Miley Achievement Center at the Onyx last weekend. Celebrated local choreographer Marko Westwood put together an evening of Broadway entertainment made up of more than a dozen vignettes highlighting different types of movement.

The show was surprisingly sloppy in concept and execution. When people sang, you could hear them screeching for the high notes. When they danced, they sometimes didn’t seem concerned about moving in sync to either the music or each other. Lengthy blackouts between numbers gave the show a somberness it didn’t need.

There were, however, two memorable moments, both choreographed by Westwood. "Steam Heat" (from "The Pajama Game") became here a "Stomp"-ish celebration of the music to be found in ordinary objects. And a pas de deux with Westwood and Jaime Velilla to "Will I Lose My Dignity" (from "Rent") was a moving tribute to the emotional bonds that can make us strong in the face of adversity. It was a healthy blend of the literal and the ambiguous, with a chorus singing the literal and the dancers suggesting, but not making explicit, the song’s undertow.

These two works suggested what might have been if the show had had a strong director who could shape things into a unified vision. Even vignettes need to feel that they are all part of the same show.

Anthony Del Valle can be reached at vegastheaterchat@aol.com. You can write him c/o Las Vegas Review-Journal, P.O. Box 70, Las Vegas, NV 89125.

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