You can probably guess from the title more or less what you’re going to get from a show called To Life: Stories & Music Celebrating the Contributions of Jewish Composers to the Great Hollywood Musicals, which you’ll find playing at Boca Raton’s Willow Theatre until this coming February 5th.
Of course, if you know the slightest bit about Broadway or Hollywood history, you probably won’t be too surprised by the way that host Shari Upbin jokingly suggests that the number of famous composers who were Jewish is actually “all of them.”
Bernstein, Sondheim, Gershwin; there are certainly more than a few Jews who made gigantic contributions to the canon, and you’ll get to hear quite a few of their hits in this charming tribute. And for a show that frankly, had a clear target audience of old Jews, a demographic to whom the revue appeared to appeal tremendously, this Jew-”ish” twenty something was consistently amused and occasionally amazed by the proceedings, and enough so that I found the post-show standing ovation worth joining.
Four quite talented South Florida actors animate this engaging mixture of old and not-so-old hits by lending their vocal and emotive talents to them. The men and ladies of the hour consist of Amy Tanner, Julie Kleiner, Michael Materdomini, and Bruno Faria. Along with singing the hell out of basically every number, the performers occasionally did some dancing as well, most notably when Kleiner’s “I Got Rhythm” turned into a top-notch tap sequence.
Bobby Peaco & Julie Kleiner
Between these numbers, Upbin also enlightened us with some historical trivia surrounding the songs on offer and other notable Jewish Hollywood figures. One of the more moving and memorable of these tidbits was that “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” written by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, was actually inspired by the Jewish longing for their homeland of Yisrael, with the state of Israel being established shortly after. To her, that was evidence that, to quote the song, sometimes “dreams really do come true.”
And though the songs on offer include plenty of other standard favorites, they also include some older numbers that I wasn’t as familiar with but that were quite delightful once we made our acquaintance, like “If You Knew Susie” and “Johnny One-Note.” Some other highlights of the 26 songs on offer include The Impossible Dream, which featured some jaw-dropping vocals by Faria, and I’m the Greatest Star, which Tanner and Kleiner performed as a duet as if they were vying for the title, with each proving themselves more than worthy.
Honestly, the high talent level of the cast meant there were few songs that weren’t pretty impressive—but the song I had the strongest emotional reaction to happened to be “Somewhere” from West Side Story. While this might have just been something I assumed based on the fact that I’d heard the song talked about before as having possibly been shaped by its lyricist, Stephen Sondheim, having been gay, the fact that the romantic number opened with the two male cast members seeming to be singing to one another set off a cascade of sentiment about sexuality and acceptance that it was quite hard for me to stem.