Stars of David
Philadelphia Theatre Company opens its 2012-2013 season with the world premiere of the new musical song cycle "Stars of David," a musical stage adaptation of Abigail Pogrebin’s novel "Stars of David: Prominent Jews Talk about Being Jewish." This adaptation is achieved by turning the book’s interviews with recognizable American Jews into music numbers. While this is very much a song cycle that lends itself to a disjointed experience, "Stars of David" was remarkably coherent and endlessly charming.
The central story centers around Nancy, who is presumably based on Pogrebin, who is faced with a daughter about to go through her bat mitzvah and having no guidance to give her. Nancy never had a bat mitzvah and didn’t connect with her Jewish roots the way her daughter longs to, and this conflict makes Nancy look inward at why she never did.
This internal search leads Nancy to begin work on a series of interviews with Jewish celebrities who can explain to her what it meant for them to be a Jew. Over the course of about a year, she found a way to talk to such diverse figures as Leonard Nimoy, Fran Drescher, Joan Rivers and Tony Kushner, the show does a fantastic job of talking about different points of interest and identity that American Jews feel.
The music for the show was written and composed by something of a Who’s Who in musical theater, including Marc Shaiman, Julie Styne, Duncan Sheik and Marvin Hasmlisch. Some songs work better than others, but the cast is so uniformly talented both in their impressions and their performances that I found myself actually pleased to be getting such a diverse presentation.
I don’t usually like to play favorites in ensemble casts, but I must comment how repeatedly amazed I was by the performances by Alex Brightman and Donna Vivino. A show like "Stars of David" requires its cast to not only be chameleons in character, but also in vocal capacities. While everyone involved in the show gave a strong showing, Brightman and Vivino stunned almost every time they were on stage.
"Stars of David" easily achieves what it seems to set out to do, which is present a loving portrait of Jewish Americans through the lens of beloved celebrities and a normal confused mother trying to understand the roots from which she came. With fantastic material, an outstanding cast, and uniform wit and charm, this was show was a pleasure to watch from beginning to end.
"Stars of David" runs through Nov. 18 at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad St in Philadelphia. For info or tickets, call 215-985-0420 or visit http://philadelphiatheatrecompany.org/.