"Schlemiel the First" would be worth seeing for some of us if only for hearing Joanna Elkanna-Hale sing "Yenta's Blintzes". Elkanna-Hale, playing the rabbi's wife in this tale of the mystical town of Chelm, can be appreciated by both the Opera Theatre crowd and the James Beard Award crowd for firmly letting her husband know what she thinks of his complaining about her cooking. Her treatment of the song is a potential show-stopper.
But Schlemiel is about far more than blintzes. Director Ed Coffield has pulled together a group of fine comedic actors, headed by the marvelous Terry Meddows, who's the schlemiel in question. He's the beadle at his synagogue, a sort of handyman/gopher/janitor who helps Todd Schaefer, the aforementioned rabbi. While the rabbi and the town's leading wise men, who include a couple of sock puppets, think the rabbi really smart, we know otherwise - who wouldn't like those blintzes? Schaefer, the glistening I'm-so-swell, and Meddows, the woebegone, make for a wonderful contrast.
The rabbi and his wise guys decide to send Schlemiel out on a world tour touting the rabbi's wisdom. Mrs. Schlemiel, played by Emily Baker, is none too happy about this - not that he's that great a husband, but still.... Need I say hilarity ensues?
Baker heads up the rest of the cast, as an island of calm in the midst of farce. Antonio Rodriguez moustache-twirls, metaphorically speaking, as Rascal. And watch for Mike Dowdy, who, like several of the cast, has multiple roles. His tricycle-riding kid is fine, but he peaks as a skipping, dancing wife in the village.
This is, of course, a musical, klezmer music, the clarinet-laced stuff that, to the untrained ear, still shows how it influenced people like George Gershwin. Henry Palkes, the music director, does right by the score and his musicians, with riffs off into other familiar tunes. A little choreography is fine and casual-seeming, just right for the setting, but extra points for Schaefer's exuberant prancing.
A fine night, even for those who didn't get exposed to the Borscht-Belt comedians of late-night television (and thus Yiddish) in the Fifties.
The New Jewish Theatre
Jewish Community Center
through June 9