A Jew Grows in Brooklyn


By Ron Bennison
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Venue: The Panasonic Theatre – 651 Yonge St. Toronto
April 28 – May 16, 2010
Performance Schedule: Weds - Thurs 7:30 PM, Fri - Sat 8:00 PM, Weds, Sat, Sun 2:00 PM

This one-man show written, conceived and performed by Jake Ehrenreich, takes us on a journey of what it was like to grow up the son of Polish holocaust survivors in Brooklyn, New York in the ‘50’s. Accompanied by a 4 piece band on a set that looks like a Brooklyn tenement, the show is a coming of age tale of a man who discovers the most important thing in life is Mishpucha.

The show seems oddly disjointed at first as Ehrenreich starts the show with a Yiddish lullaby Yankele , then discusses his boyhood feelings of ostracism around that namesake while we watch a slideshow that seems to poke fun at his father – a man we will soon learn he has the utmost respect for. An immediate segue into back-to-back medleys of classic rock-and-roll songs and classic contemporary Christmas songs feels very out of place until Ehrenreich explains that all of these songs were written by Jewish people. So sets the stage for Ehrenreich honouring his roots, his family and his community for the new heritage they have created in the wake of genocide.

Ehrenreich’s velvety smooth voice is best showcased in the Yiddish folk songs he weaves into the show lending a haunting pathos to the backtrack of his life story – particularly his tribute to his tough-as –nails aunt in Tante Regina. But the musical numbers in the first half of the show are somewhat eclipsed by Ehrenreich’s photographic essay and narrative musings on the quirks and struggles of his family and other immigrants who became his extended family, most of whom are no longer with us. Most stirring is inclusion of footage of his father`s Shoah testimonial.

Halfway through the show, Ehrenreich transports us to that great Borscht Belt of Jewish summer vacations – the Catskills - in upstate New York. It is here that the musical content and the pace picks up with Ehrenreich playing both the joke-cracking Emcee and the singing talent he introduces. This gentile has never been to the Catskills, relying on pop-cultural references to it being a little corny but full of heart and largely Jewish. A Jew Grows in Brooklyn left me with the feeling that this show must have opened there long before breaking box-office records at the historic Lambs theatre in the heart of Broadway.

Ehrenreich returns to the slideshow format to wind up the story of his life so far with a montage of images of his world travels as a performer, his traditional Jewish marriage to wife Lisa and the birth of his son Dovy. And life begins again. It is clear that apart from performing, Mishpucha (family) means everything to this man.

A summer escape to the Catskills is really symbolic of the life so many had no choice but to leave behind in Europe. And it would be easy to get stuck focusing on the tragic, things lost and /or never found. A Jew Grows in Brooklyn, is Jake Ehrenreich’s own Shoah testimonial writ large in a way that is light and hopeful through song and dance, poignant storytelling and a little seltzer-down-your-pants. His parting message to the audience, “Be grateful for what you have”.

Written Conceived and Starring: Jake Ehrenreich
Musical Director: Mike Reilly
Direction by: John Huberth and Jake Ehrenreich
Creative Consultant / Costume Design by: Lisa Ehrenreich
Production Stage Manager: Jeffrey C. Stevenson
Lighting Design by: Anjeanette Stokes
Scenic Design by: Joseph Egan