I was proud to attend the opening weekend run of LIES MY FATHER TOLD ME, a new whimsical and moving coming-of-age musical based on the 1975 Academy-Award-nominated, Golden Globe winning film.

I fondly recall seeing this in the movie theatre back in the 70s as well as in recent years in English and Yiddish in performances at the Segal Centre for Performing Arts (a.k.a. the Saidye Bronfman Centre). The movie and musical reminded me then, and still do now, what life was like when my father was a very young boy growing up in Montreal’s “golden era”, the Baron Bing heyday, pre- World War II.  In those poverty-stricken days my grandfather used to peddle fruits (and his brother sold vegetables). Their families lived in very cramped quarters along the slope of Mount Royal, on Esplanade, St. Urban and adjacent streets

Following three generations in an immigrant family living in Montreal during the 1920s, when North American Immigration pushed forward in its final great wave and an assimilated country pushed back even harder, LIES MY FATHER TOLD ME recounts David’s childhood memories of the people and occurrences that would shape his life.

This highly-anticipated National Premiere garnered a critically-acclaimed run at Montreal’s Award-winning Segal Centre.

Glenn J. Nashen with composer Ilan Kunin and Director Bryna Wasserman at New York City's Baruch Centre for Performing Arts

Glenn J. Nashen with composer Elan Kunin and Director Bryna Wasserman at New York City’s Baruch Centre for Performing Arts

 

LIES was a kind of Canadian spin-off of “Fiddler on the Roof.” When Jan Kadar’s cinematic classic, “Lies My Father Told Me,” premiered in 1975, it was hailed as a stunning evocation of Jewish life in Montreal in the 1920s, as the older immigrant generation and its ways began to fade into obsolescence. The tale of a 6-year- old boy caught between his Tevye-like grandfather and his ambitious, money-hungry father, the film rode the wave of multiculturalism that had engulfed North America, and focused new attention on Jewish ethnicity.

The musical version of “Lies,” with music and lyrics by Elan Kunin, opened last week in New York at the Baruch Performing Arts Center, as part of the Folksbiene Yiddish Theater’s 99th season.

Originally written as an autobiographical short story by the anti-Fascist journalist Ted Allan, who later created a radio play and then a play with music based on the same story, the musical is directed by Bryna Wasserman, the executive director of the Folksbiene. Wasserman also directed the production at the Segal Theatre in Montreal in 2005, two decades after her mother, Dora Wasserman, directed the play version at the same theatre.

In the current “Lies,” Zayda (Chuck Karel) takes his grandson, David (Alex Dreier) with him on his horse-drawn wagon as he sells rags and other sundries throughout the Jewish neighborhood of Montreal. Quoting liberally, à la Tevye, from the Torah and Talmud, Zayda tries to fill the boy’s head with Jewish wisdom. But the boy’s father, Harry (Jonathan Raviv), a cynical and narcissistic tailor who keeps failing to get his father-in-law to invest in his creaseless pants and other inventions, disparages Zayda and his horse at every opportunity. When David, believing that he is following his grandfather’s wishes, spreads horse manure on the steps of a nasty neighbor, the ensuing confrontation fatally compromises the family’s ability to balance tradition and modern life.

The production, which has the largest cast ever used by the Folksbiene, (17 actors in all), is a “perfect introduction for people who are interested in the Yiddish world in both a quaint and a deep way.”

Although the New York Times review was not flattering I found the performance to be an engaging and nostalgic cultural ride through modern history. My smile was from ear to ear and lasted from beginning to end. As the plump, lovable grandfather belted out his musical advertisement of “Rags, Clothes, Bottles,” I couldn’t help but miss the good old days when I was the little boy sitting beside my own Zaida.

Bryna Wasserman would make any Montrealer proud in her new role off Broadway. She confirmed to me that she will continue to collaborate with the Segal Centre and that new productions in Yiddish and with the young actors group could be in the cards.

“Lies My Father Told Me,”  runs through Sunday, Dec. 15.  Visit www.nationalyiddishtheatre.org. 

 

 

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