Without Jews, there would be no Broadway as we know it. Jewish writers, lyricists, composers, directors, producers and stars played an enormous role in creating and shaping the distinctive and distinguished New York cultural institution known as the Great White Way.
Even that nickname came from a Jew. The phrase Great White Way is attributed to Shep Friedman, columnist for the New York Morning Telegraph, and refers to a stretch of Broadway between Union Square and Madison Square that in 1880 was brightly illuminated by arc lamps. When the theatre district moved uptown, the name was transferred to the Times Square area.
Menorah pays tribute to the Jewish contribution to Broadway at its fundraiser, New York, New York, which includes a clips program highlighting great Jewish musicals set in New York City, from “West Side Story” to “The Producers.”
We thought you’d enjoy learning more about some of the famous shows celebrating New York which we’ll be showcasing Sunday night.
- Did you know that “West Side Story” was originally conceived as a Romeo and Juliet love story with a Jewish gang at war with anti-Semitic New York homeboys? Jerome Robbins initially proposed that the plot focus on the conflict between an Irish American family and a Jewish family living on the Lower East Side during the Easter-Passover season.
Presumably, Puerto Ricans are better dancers, and made more sympathetic rivals for The Jets. Yet the entire creative team remained Jewish, with a script by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim and choreography by Jerome Robbins. The film version won ten Oscars in its eleven nominated categories, including Best Picture, as well as a special award for Robbins. The film, directed by Robbins and Robert Wise, holds the distinction of being the musical film with the most Academy Award wins, including Best Picture. The soundtrack album made more money than any other album before.
- Did you know that a Jew born in Russia whose earliest memory is of his house being burnt to the ground during a pogrom wrote the emblem for urbane New York sophistication, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” just as he penned the yuletide anthem “White Christmas?” Irving Berlin, widely considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history, wrote an estimated 1,500 songs during his 60-year career, including the scores for 19 Broadway shows and 18 films, with his songs nominated eight times for Oscars.
- Did you know that Fanny Brice’s son–in-law, Ray Stark, created the show immortalizing the famous singer, actress and comedienne? Stephen Sonheim was originally hired to do the score for “Funny Girl” for actress Mary Martin, but decided he did not want to do the life of Fanny Brice with Martin because she wasn’t Jewish. Carol Burnett was approached but declined, saying “I’d love to do it but what you need is a Jewish girl.”
Barbara Streisand was performing at the Bon Soir in Greenwich Village when the producers went to see if she might be right for the part. Despite the fact that Streisand was wearing clothes out of thrift shops, which became the impetus for “Second Hand Rose,” Stark hired her on the spot. When it came time to cast the screen adaptation, Streisand was Stark’s first and only choice to portray Brice onscreen. Columbia Pictures wanted Shirley MacLaine but Stark insisted if Streisand were not cast, he would not allow a film to be made at all.
Streisand went on to share the best actress Oscar with Katharine Hepburn (“Lion in Winter”). Streisand’s first comment when handed the Oscar statuette was “Hello, gorgeous,” the first line in the film.
- More trivia: That line was repeated by Max Bialystock in Mel Brooks’ musical, “The Producers.” The title of Max’s latest flop in that film is “Funny Boy,” a musical adaptation of “Hamlet.” Brooks also satirized Florence Ziegfield’s style of musical extravaganza and use of busty showgirls in his famed staging of the notoriously tasteless and hilariously offensive song, “Springtime for Hitler.”
Come enjoy some of these musical moments at New York, New York, this Sunday, September 18 at 5:30 pm. The evening also includes a silent auction, fabulousNew York ethnic food, a trivia contest, prizes, dancing, a slide show of New York sights, and a soundtrack of New York standards.
The fundraiser honors Professor David Shneer, and a portion of the proceeds will fund a scholarship for the Program in Jewish Studies at CU.
Deadline for registration is September 15. Don’t miss the fun! Visit www.boulderjcc.org to register.