Jewish Roots of Broadway

Fall 2015

Program Notes

PROGRAM: Jewish Roots of Broadway (Fall 2015)

 

Opening Montage:    
Bar'chu et-Adonai ham'vorach   Traditional Liturgy; arr. Jonathan Miller
Ain't Necessarily So   George Gershwin, Dubose Heyward and Ira Gershwin; arr. Ed Lojeski and Jonathan Miller
Di Grine Kuzine   Abe Schwartz, Hyman Prizant; arr. Jonathan Miller
Swanee   George Gershwin, Irving Caesar; arr.: Jonathan Miller
The American Dream    
Get Happy / Ac-cen-tu-ate the Positive   Harold Arlen, T. Koehler and Johnny Mercer; arr. Robert Page
Lyricists' Creativity with Language    
I'll be seeing you   Sammy Fain, Irving Kahal; arr. Darmon Meader
Swonderful (TTBB)  

George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin; arr. Kevin Keller

Embraceable You   George Gershwin, Ira Gershwin; arr. Steve Zegree
All of Me  

Seymour Simons and Gerald Marks; arr. Patrick Sinozich

A Sense of Justice (Racial Equality, etc.)    
Summertime  

George Gershwin, Dubose Heyward; arr. Roderick Wiliams

Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man  

Jerome Kern, Oscar Hammerstein II; arr. Nicholas Hare

Melodic/Motivic Borrowings AND The American Dream    
Rozhinkes mit mandlen   Abraham Goldfaden; arr. Stewart Figa and John William Trotter
Blue Skies  

Irving Berlin; arr. Joe Jennings

  INTERMISSION  
Melodic/Motivic Borrowings    
Haynt iz Purim, Brider  

Abraham Goldfaden, Mordecai Rivesman; arr. Jonathan Miller

Steppin' Out  

Irving Berlin; arr. Deke Sharon

P'tach lanu sha'ar  

Yom Kippur liturgy; arr. Jonathan Miller

My Funny Valentine  

Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart; arr. Bob Krogstad

A Sense of Justice (Racial Equality etc.)    
Carefully Listen (Carefully Taught/Children will Listen)  

Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II / Stephen Sondheim

Rodgers & Hammerstein    
Getting To Know You / Surrey w/Fringe On Top  

Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II; arr. Patrick Sinozich

If I Loved You   Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II; arr. Kirby Shaw
Dames medley   Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II; arr. Patrick Sinozich
Send in the Clowns  

Stephen Sondheim; arr. Page (rev. Trotter)

So long, farewell  

Richard Rodgers,  Oscar Hammerstein II; arr. Patrick Sinozich

encore: You Won't Succeed on Broadway   Eric Idle & John Du Prez; arr. Jonathan Miller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Artistic Director:

Broadway musicals, as we now know them, didn’t just pop out of nowhere. Prior to the great surge in popularity and esteem for the genre in the 1920s, most American cities had experienced a mishmash of styles: operetta, blackface minstrelsy, vaudeville, the musicals of Gilbert and Sullivan, and more. However, in New York, a perfect storm occurred, including a surge in Jewish population (roughly 25% of New Yorkers in 1920 were Jewish), a concentration of talent, a desire of first-generation American Jewish musicians and lyricists to get beyond Yiddishe culture by defining something new and truly American, and a palpable sense of an American Dream.

In many ways, the Jewish dream in America is very closely tied to the American Dream. Indeed, it can be (and has been) argued that the American Dream is actually an invention of the Jewish-born composers and poets who created the Broadway musical. But what’s so Jewish about Broadway musicals, other than the fact that virtually all of the creative material was written by Jews? That is a fabulous question, and the attempt to answer it gave rise to this program. The young, creative Jews who came of age in Manhattan were exposed to a world much more open, much more filled with possibility, than the Europe they had left. Here in America, “you could be anyone,” not just a Jew. Young immigrants loved their new adopted language of English, which absorbed their intense curiosity.

As we shall see, elements of synagogue music, the Yiddish theatre, and other parts of Jewish culture seeped into the Broadway musical. The writers were making conscious efforts not to write “Jewish musicals” or “musicals just for Jews,” but rather stories and music to which everyone would relate… and productions to which everyone would want to buy tickets. Their desire for a more universal appeal helped create an art form that now has made its stamp virtually around the globe, even in languages other than English.

* * * * * * *

This concert began to take shape a year ago, when Matt Greenberg, our wonderful executive director, told me excitedly about a PBS television special that was tracing the Jewish roots of Broadway musicals. That connection sounds intuitively obvious. After all, Gershwin, Irving Berlin, and Rodgers and Hammerstein were all Jewish, to name a few greats. “So,” came the question, “can we do a program about that?” “Sure, I’ll take that on,” I said, with a little trepidation, knowing that I probably have less background with musical theatre than anyone on our music staff. The task at hand soon became that of getting the lump out of my throat and wrestling the program to the ground (my version of Jacob’s visit with the angel).

As it turned out, most of the research for this program coincided with my taking several trips to Portland, Oregon, to visit my dad, Ephraim Moses Miller of blessed memory, who was struggling with liver cancer. We finally lost him on May 28th, at the age of 84. As I have told so many friends and loved ones, Dad was truly the sweetest man I have ever known.

My dad was not a practicing Jew. I think he came to synagogue maybe twice during all the years I was attending KAM Isaiah Israel in Hyde Park, a time during which I was having my head filled with the melodies of Max Janowski and Debbie Friedman. In keeping with his overall kindness, my dad wasn’t boycotting shul out of any sense of hostility, as I’ve heard other people describe their parents’ attitude toward organized religion. In fact, he was a lifelong seeker of a particular variety of religious experience that drew him in turn to Hinduism, Quakerism, and finally Tibetan Buddhism. (I even learned recently that my dad’s mother poo-poohed traditional Jewish religious practice.) He was a walking encyclopedia about mysticism and spiritual practices. More than anyone I’ve ever met, Dad was all about religion—just not Judaism.

As I saw on Dad’s birth certificate, he was born in New York City to Russian immigrant parents who lived in Brooklyn. After his birth, the family moved to rural areas for my grandfather’s work, which was to help Jewish immigrants settle as farmers in upstate New York and New England. My grandmother had been a concert singer, including solos with the Freyheyt Gezang Vereyn, which was the choral wing of the Communist Party in New York City (seriously – it was a time when many self-styled intellectuals very closely identified with socialism and/or communism). Inspired by her own passion for music, Grandmother encouraged my dad to study classical piano. Dad also told puns, and he had a tremendous ear for languages, so I suppose that’s a slim personal connection from me to Broadway. My uncle David retains more of a vaudeville sense of humor—his hero is probably Groucho Marx—and my Dad’s older cousin Maish actually was a vaudeville actor back in the day. However, none of this family background gave me much confidence in building this program.

One of the great lessons of my midlife is that asking for help is a wonderful thing. Needing confidence and expertise to make real for myself the musical connections between synagogue music, Yiddish theater, and Broadway songs, I turned to colleagues. Marsha Bryan Edelman, who works at Gratz College and at the Zamir Choral Foundation in New York, is probably the nation’s leading expert on the overall history of Jewish music. Her book, Discovering Jewish Music, was the first source I devoured. Looking to build on what I learned there, I asked Marsha where to look to start tracing some of the actual melodic and thematic connections that I was after. She said, “Well, the book you need to get is Funny, It Doesn’t Sound Jewish by Jack Gottlieb.” That book was my constant companion, living in my carry-on bag for all those trips to Portland. I wish that Jack were still alive, because his book is really something—erudite, funny, wide-ranging, and more than just an academic study. The whole genre and its cultural background come to life in his book, and we are deeply in his debt for helping us draw out some of these connections between genres.

Matt’s initial suggestion of the PBS special, Broadway Musicals: A Jewish Legacy, was the next indispensable resource that I devoured. That video features experts who happily and enthusiastically sing and play their way through some of the vocal lines in synagogue music, Yiddish folk and theatre songs, and Broadway and Tin Pan Alley tunes. The connections just pop right out – what fun. The interviewees also share first-hand stories about the people involved in that intense and exhilarating creative and commercial process during the first half of the 20th century.

There’s another element that is beautifully described in the production, in which people talk about the compassionate nature of some of the writers. The lyricists, especially Oscar Hammerstein II, sought to address some of the most pressing social issues of his times (especially race and prejudice) in his creative work—a sort of tikkun olam, a healing of the world, through the art form. Doing all this research, I gradually learned why Show Boat is so important in the history of musical theater, I began to appreciate the sorts of risks that led to The King and I, and so on. If you have any interest in this subject matter at all, just go buy that video, and watch all the special features.

Maybe because this program had so much to do with losing my dad, it was truly one of the toughest assignments I’ve ever had in programming for Chicago a cappella. While I can sometimes flesh out the scaffolding for a program in a few weeks of deeply focused activity, this one had gone on for at least three months—and that’s just to get the working outline down. Despite all of the reading and listening and intense work, I still was not satisfied.

Have you ever just hit a wall when working on something? I was feeling that in some sense I was trying to do what academics call a “literature review,” where you read everything on the subject and come up with a sort of annotated bibliography, a sense of the current state of research in your area. That is good and potentially valuable, but it feels remote, not anything that really lives inside you, and it’s certainly not what a Chicago a cappella concert is. What kept eluding me was a first-hand sense of connection between the synagogue music that I knew and the Broadway tunes that I’ve come to love. I started to feel (and wish) that, if one little thread could somehow actually connect synagogue music and American Songbook music inside me, it would be enough.

Then something magical happened, around the middle of June. I truly cannot say what precipitated it. It could have been any number of things: going to synagogue more often to say Kaddish for my dad, or a critical mass of musical material swimming around in my head, or just enough simmering time to be able to see the forest for the trees; but in any case, I’ll never forget it. I was driving back from the park here in Downers Grove, where I walk my dogs almost every afternoon; the dogs were flopped in the back seat, and I was taking the road home that goes up a big hill and then back down, with no stop signs or traffic lights. For some stubborn reason, I wasn’t willing to settle for the opinion of others that the song “My Funny Valentine” has no Jewish connection. I was searching for a melody from the cantorial repertoire that I sing on the High Holidays at Rodfei Zedek—something that had the same intense depth of feeling that I feel in “My Funny Valentine”—and it hit me. I could make something work—I sang it in the car. My heart leapt for joy, really for the first time since my dad had died. I came home and wrote down what I had heard. You’ll get to hear it too. Then I found another one, where an example from Jack Gottlieb connected a Yiddish song by Abraham Goldfaden with a beloved tune by Irving Berlin. That too filled my brain and had me singing the musical connection to Sandy as I bopped around the house.

* * * * * * *

I am sure that there are many more stories about the birth of this genre, and anyone from Matt and John Trotter to the singers surely can tell you their versions. I’ve now told you some of my own journey, from Torah service to Second Avenue to Broadway to Chicago a cappella. I hope that it illuminates in some way the journey that you take with us as we present this music to you on the stage. Thank you so much for being here, and enjoy the show.

—Jonathan Miller
Founder and Artistic Director

 

Notes on the Music by Jonathan Miller

 

Trad. Liturgy: Torah Blessings 1
Whenever the Torah is read in synagogue, this blessing is chanted before each section. It is an honor to go up for an aliyah (the word aliyah literally means “going up”). Bar and bat mitzvah students learn these and other blessings as well as their assigned Torah portion.

Gershwin/Heyward,  arr. Ed Lojeski: It Ain’t Necessarily So (with Torah Blessings 2)
After the Torah portion is read, there is a concluding blessing. We have paired it with one of the great tunes from Porgy and Bess. We’re not the first people to notice the similarities between these two tunes. The Gershwins and Dubose Heyward, when writing Porgy and Bess, used some irony in taking the Torah-blessing melody and putting it into a song that mocks religion, saying, “The things that you’re li’ble to read in the Bible / It ain’t necessarily so.”

* * * * * * *

Abe Schwartz and Hyman Priant, arr. Miller:  Di Grine Kuzine
This theatrical song was hugely popular both inside and outside Yiddish music halls in the early 1920s. As Neil Levin notes, the lyrics refer (in later verses) to the disillusionment felt by immigrants, who fed on stories that American streets were paved with gold, who came to this country only to endure sweatshop conditions. The popularity of the song gave Abe Schwartz’s career a large boost. The basic rhythmic profile and overall feel are remarkably similar to “Swanee,” George Gershwin’s first and biggest-ever hit song.

George Gershwin and Irving Caesar, arr. Miller:  Swanee
This famous song was written in 1919, when George Gershwin was 20 years old, for a New York City-based review called Demi-Tasse. The song, partly intended as a parody of Stephen Foster’s “Swanee River,” was a big production number in the revue, with kicking showgirls and such, but it never caught on until after Gershwin mentioned the song to Al Jolson at a party. Jolson recorded the song the next year, and it took off like lightning. It was broadcast on radio and sold a million copies of sheet music and two million records, enabling Gershwin to concentrate future efforts on theatre and film music instead of “one-off ” pop songs.

“Swanee” is an example of the “minor verse / major chorus” quality of many of the Jewish Broadway composers. Yiddish song was pretty unrelentingly minor, and non-Jewish songs were mostly major; this was a new hybrid that kept a slightly heart-tugging feel while also providing a happy ending – happy endings, as we’ll see later, being a significant part of the 20th-century American worldview.

* * * * * * *

Harold Arlen/Ted Koehler/Johnny Mercer, arr. Page: Get Happy / Ac-cen-tu-ate the Positive
The emerging sense of an American Dream – where old histories could be thrown off, problems could be forgotten, and anything is possible – was a contrast from Old-World attitudes. Few people were better champions of having a good attitude than the first generation of American-Jewish songwriters. The American Dream is captured vividly in these two songs, woven into a mini-medley by the ever-inventive Robert Page, one of the iconic choral directors in American musical history, who is director emeritus of the Mendelssohn Club and professor emeritus at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Sammy Fain and Irving Kahal, arr. Darmon Meader: I’ll Be Seeing You
George Gershwin and Ira, arr. Kevin Kelley: ‘Swonderful
George Gershwin and Ira, arr. Steve Zegree: Embraceable You
Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons, arr. Patrick Sinozich: All of Me

These four songs help us to appreciate the inventiveness of the Jewish lyricists who penned mainstream popular songs. They eschewed Yiddish and reveled in the delights of English. Their lyrics are subtle and sophisticated, humorous and charming, and they helped to define the American mindset of their own era, which we also inherit.  Let the lyrics charm you; listen for the rhythms, rhymes, assonance and alliteration in the poetry; and experience how the composers worked with the superb sonic material—made of words—that they were given.

* * * * * * *

George and Ira Gershwin and Dubose Heyward, arr. Roderick Williams: Summertime
In October 1935, Porgy and Bess made its Broadway debut, after an initial run in Boston during which many cuts were made to shorten and tighten the overall flow. It ran for 126 performances on Broadway and then went on tour.

There are several angles to the Jewish roots of Porgy and Bess. The work owes much to the pioneering example of Show Boat, which dealt with racial issues in a way that mainstream Broadway audience had never seen onstage. In terms of actual musical material, there’s no exact source that we can trace, but there are several lines of thought that help to paint the picture. Jack Gottlieb has noted some melodic parallels to Yiddish song in the “Summertime” tune (as well as echoes of the spiritual “Motherless Child”). Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, a descendant son of the renowned Thomashevsky family of Yiddish theatre, notes the interplay between major and minor melodic inflections in freygish tunes, Chasidic song, cantorial chant, and African-American music, including blues. The poignant flatted note on “don’t you cry” is a perfect example of this stylistic hybrid.

Kern/Hammerstein,  arr. Nicholas Hare: Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man
Judging by the legacy of lyrics that he left us, Oscar Hammerstein II seems to have had a compassionate heart. Many of his musicals—Show Boat, The Sound of Music, South Pacific, The King and I—tackle difficult social issues that were mostly being ignored by the rest of Broadway. This is one of the great songs from Show Boat, which dealt head-on with an interracial love relationship. Julie, the character who sings the song in the show, is “passing” as white, though she is really a light-skinned African-American married to a white husband, violating the state’s law against such unions.

* * * * * * *

Abraham Goldfaden, arr. J. Trotter: Rozhinkes mit Mandlen
This plaintive melody would have been heard all over the Jewish sections of New York City for decades around the year 1900. It was featured in the 1880 musical Shulamis by Abraham Goldfaden, one of the greats of the Yiddish Theatre on Second Avenue. To this day, it is a common lullaby among the Ashkenazim in Europe, and it has taken on the character of a folksong, though it was written in America for a particular production. Jane Seymour famously sang it at the end of the film War and Remembrance.

Irving Berlin, arr. Joseph Jennings:  Blue Skies
Jack Gottlieb notes that the some of the melodic contours of “Blue Skies” come right out of “Rozhinkes mit Mandlen”: “Blue skies, smilin’ at me” is basically the same as “Unter Yideles vigele,” and “Nothing but blue skies do I see” is the same contour as “Vigt si keseyder un zingt im…” There’s even a Goldfanden tune with the same essential shape as “Never saw the sun shining so bright.” As Jack Gottlieb notes, there’s no evidence that Berlin was intending to refer to Jewish sources, but one can imagine all sorts of Jewish melodic fragments lying around Berlin’s head. Also, as it’s often said about songwriting, there’s really nothing new under the sun; it’s all a question of how you put things together.

I N T E R M I S S I O N

Abraham Goldfaden, Mordecai Rivesman, arr. Jonathan Miller: Haynt iz Purim, Brider
Irving Berlin, arr. Deke Sharon: Steppin’ Out

Purim is one of the most joyous festivals in the Jewish year. It occurs in midwinter, between Chanukah and Passover. On Purim, we read the entire scroll (the whole megillah) of the Book of Esther. Part of the fun is using noisemakers (greggers) to drown out the name of Haman, the villain in the Esther story, every time it is read. And how appropriate that this tune was penned by another Mordecai (Esther’s father in the Purim story), Mordecai Rivesman, with help from Abraham Goldfaden.

And what popular song seems to rise straight from this Yiddish melody? One of Irving Berlin’s greatest hits, “Steppin’ Out”, that’s what! To connect the two songs, our own Jonathan Miller has put together a musical “scene” that shows one way Berlin might have taken the Purim song in 1948 and turned it into a hit for Easter Parade. (There are even melodic parallels between the second half of “Haynt iz Purim” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz”). Jonathan has given a swing element to the Yiddish song, which makes the distance between the two tunes very small indeed.

* * * * * * *

Trad. Yom Kippur (N’ilah) liturgy:  P’tach lanu sha’ar
Rodgers & Hart, arr. Bob Krogstad: My Funny Valentine

The Jewish minor key isn’t always sad. It can be glorious and grand. At the end of Yom
Kippur, the holiest of Jewish holidays, there is a final service called N’ilah, during which
we petition the Almighty to keep the gates of heaven open just a bit longer, so that we may be inscribed and sealed in the Book of Life for the coming year. This majestic melody is a moving petition, including a plea for forgiveness. The melody rises strongly toward the end, as the plea becomes more urgent.
Many people have written that “My Funny Valentine” isn’t Jewish. Perhaps not, but we have found one possible connection; you’ll hear the hint of it toward the end of the cantorial chant.

* * * * * * *

Rodgers and Hammerstein / Stephen Sondheim: Carefully Taught / Children Will Listen
This medley draws attention to the powerful mentoring that Stephen Sondheim received from his surrogate father, Oscar Hammerstein II. When he was ten, Stephen Sondheim befriended James Hammerstein, Oscar’s son. Sondheim’s parents were breaking up at the time, and Oscar graciously mentored Sondheim for years. There is a great story of Sondheim bringing a musical that he had written at boarding school for Hammerstein’s feedback, not revealing who had composed it. Hammerstein’s reply was that it was the worst thing he’d ever seen—“but if you want to know why it’s terrible, I’ll tell you.” The two spent the afternoon discussing the work, and Sondheim later said: “In that afternoon I learned more about songwriting and the musical theater than most people learn in a lifetime.”

Here is a medley of one of the best-loved songs from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific and Sondheim’s Into the Woods, respectively. “Carefully Taught” was criticized for being too blunt and controversial about the shaping of prejudice. The writers risked censorship when South Pacific first toured the southern United States, because the musical was said to justify interracial marriage, but they stuck by their work and eventually prevailed. “Children Will Listen” is a moral warning from Into the Woods, Sondheim’s inventive mashup of several traditional fairy tales, in which the Witch warns parents to pay attention to what they say.

* * * * * * *

More from Rodgers and Hammerstein:
arr. Patrick Sinozich: Getting to Know You / Surrey with the Fringe on Top
arr. Kirby Shaw: If I Loved You
arr. Patrick Sinozich: Dames! (a medley)

We continue to celebrate the spirit, lyrics and music of Rodgers and Hammerstein. “Getting to Know You” comes from The King and I, a groundbreaking study in cross-cultural understanding. Hammerstein struggled with the 1944 novel by Margaret Landon, failing to see how it could inspire a plot for a musical, but he created a subplot with Tuptim and Lun Tha, two secondary characters whose love could be expressed (which Anna’s and the King’s could not) but not fulfilled, and Rodgers gave rich vocal material to both of those characters. “Surrey” is from Oklahoma!, a musical that some said had no business being successful because it had no big stars, no scantily-clad showgirls and no gags or bad jokes. However, it ran for five years on Broadway, shattering all previous records. “If I Loved You” is a gem from Carousel, a delightful use of the subjunctive, where Julie Jordan tells Billy Bigelow that she indeed could marry him, “if I loved you.” The final piece in this set is a brilliant combination of several R & H songs about women, created by our music director emeritus, Patrick Sinozich.

* * * * * * *

Sondheim, arr. Robert Page: Send in the Clowns
One of Sondheim’s strengths is the way he has stretched the definition of musical theatre to include the messiness and confusion of contemporary life—especially of relationships. In the show A Little Night Music, the character Desirée has just been rejected by Fredrik after suggesting that they could be together permanently. While Desirée ordinarily can fire off witty and blithe dialogue, she finds herself utterly incapable of doing so in this situation. The result is this touching song, full of vulnerability and guilelessness, remorse and compassion. Graham Wolfe has written that this song is “an exemplary manifestation of Sondheim’s musico-dramatic complexity, his inclination to write music that performs drama.”

Rodgers and Hammerstein, arr. Patrick Sinozich: So Long, Farewell
We bid adieu with this beloved song from The Sound of Music. This pair of Jewish songwriters took on the job of telling a story that takes place during the Nazi era—a gutsy move. This show was the final triumph of the Rodgers-and-Hammerstein team; nine months after the show’s premiere (with Theodore Bikel as the original Captain von Trapp), Hammerstein died. The Sound of Music generated more than three million dollars in sales before opening in New York, at that time the largest advance sale in the history of the Broadway theater. During the show’s first two years, there was never an empty seat in the house.