Song and Laughter

Broadway star Shoshana Bean is coming to the Merage Jewish Community Center in Irvine to perform selections from Streisand and her new debut album “Superhero.”  Her show, which is titled “The Belle of 116th Street – Shoshana Sings Streisand” will make its Orange County debut on Saturday, October 2 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, October 3 at 4 p.m.

The performances will launch the inaugural season of the Orange County Jewish Theatre.  Jewish theatre began in America as an attempt to preserve the culture of the shtetl , and as the old ways merged into the new, Jewish theatre evolved.  Rather than looking back nostalgically to the Jewish past, Jewish theatres today embrace and celebrate the Jewish present.

The Orange County Jewish Theatre at the Merage Jewish Community Center provides a venue in which to showcase current Jewish talent through quality stage, dance, and music performances as well as films and lectures highlighting Jewish themes and performers for the Orange County community.  Special funding for the Orange County Jewish Theatre is provided by the Doris H. and Milton J. Chasin Cultural Arts Program Endowment and the Merage JCC Cultural Arts Patron Circle. According to the organizers, Jewish theatre strengthens Jewish identity by expressing the Jewish experience and shared memories.

The mission of the Orange County Jewish Theatre at the Merage Jewish Community Center is to provide quality stage, dance and music performances as well as films and lectures highlighting Jewish themes and performers for the Orange County community. According to Jennifer Lewis, the cultural arts director at the JCC, “We believe that Jewish theatre strengthens Jewish identity by expressing the Jewish experience and shared memories.”

The Orange County Jewish Theatre at the Merage Jewish Community Center will launch its inaugural season with dynamic new music and comedy entertainment beginning October 2. Headlining this season will be Broadway singing sensation Shoshana Bean; contemporary comedian and author of the 188th Crybaby Brigade Joel Chasnoff; Emmy-winning actress/comedienne Judy Gold; and the off-Broadway cutting edge comedy show “Circumcise Me.”

Shoshana Bean, who is best known for her roles in the Broadway smash hits Wicked and Hairspray, recently released her debut solo album “Superhero” on her own label, Shotime Records. In its first week of sales, the album reached number five on the Itunes R&B charts, making it the only independent album in the top 100.   Bean’s tribute to Streisand at the JCC is most fitting, because, as a very young child, she sang and danced around her house in high heels and makeup to the music of Barbra Streisand, as well as Whitney Houston, Pat Benatar, George Michael, and  Michael Jackson.

After graduating from the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Bean first appeared on the New York City theater scene in the Off-Broadway revival of Godspell. Bean subsequently performed in the national tour of Leader of the Pack. She made her Broadway debut in the original cast of the Tony Award-winning production of Hairspray. She is probably best known, however, for her lead role performance of Elphaba in the Broadway sensation Wicked.

Bean sang back-up for an endless list of superstars including Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Usher, Destiny’s Child, N’Sync, Ray Charles, Britney Spears, and Michael Jackson. She gained national attention when she teamed up with Grammy Award nominee Brian McKnight to honor Aretha Franklin on the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards.  McKnight has said of Bean, “She has one of the greatest voices I’ve ever heard. Such versatility is rarely found. She has it all.”

Bean’s work as a singer/songwriter has been featured on MTV’s The Hills and Mercy. In December 2008, she performed at the Kennedy Center in a concert of The Music of Andrew Lloyd Weber.  Her debut single “Superhero” was used to promote NBC’s Monday night line-up (Chuck, Heroes) and recently won an Independent Music Award for best R&B song.

Bean is a Virgo, and an only child. Born in Olympia, Washington, she grew up in Beaverton, Oregon. She has a Puggle named Mimi, after Mariah Carey, and is most proud of receiving her license to drive a motorcycle. She loves ketchup on most everything, cheap jewelry, and enjoys sewing, but doesn’t enjoy following patterns.

On Saturday, October 2, and Sunday October 3, Bean will bring her evening of music to Orange County where audiences will enjoy many Streisand classics alongside Bean’s original music from her debut album.  Bean will seamlessly blend the classic with the contemporary.

Orange County Jewish Theatre fans are in store for a lot more performances.  Several of them involve comedy.

On Saturday, December 11, at 8 p.m., Joel Chasnoff will take center stage.  Contemporary comedian Joel Chasnoff is not your grandfather’s Jewish comedian. His comedy is a one hundred-eighty-degree turn from the old Borscht Belt comics.

Chasnoff is a stand-up comedian and writer with stage and screen credits in eight countries. He is the author of the comic memoir The188th Crybaby Brigade about his year as a combat soldier in the Israeli Army.  On tour, he was the warm-up act for Jon Stewart and Lewis Black of “The Daily Show,” and he recently returned from a USO Comedy Tour of Japan and Korea. Chasnoff’s book, The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah, is a hilarious and poignant account of his service in the Israeli Armored Corps. A.J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Living Biblically, calls Crybaby Brigade “A great tale, a Jewish Jarhead. It didn’t make me want to join the Israeli Army, but it made me very glad Joel did, so he could bring us back such a funny, thoughtful, and poignant story.”

On Saturday, February 5, at 8 p.m., and Sunday February 6, at 4 p.m., Judy Gold will present “25 Questions for a Jewish Mother – An Off Broadway One Woman Show.”  Gold is a statuesque presence with a loud voice ranging from sweet to sour who captures the audience from the moment she opens her mouth in this performance. Her monologue, co-written with Kate Moira Ryan, is based on more than 50 interviews with Jewish mothers across the United States, conducted over a five-year period.

Gold incorporates anecdotes from her own life in her show. The end result is a moving and humorous portrait of what makes a Jewish mother a Jewish mother. Gold, an Emmy Award winner for her work on “The Rosie O’Donnell Show,” is a veteran stand-up comic who has appeared on Comedy Central, including the show “Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn.”

Finally, Orange County Jewish Theatre will present “Circumcise Me” on Thursday, March 11, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, March 13, at 4 p.m. Boasting a title that might make men squirm, “Circumcise Me” is a new comedy written by and starring comedian Yisrael Campbell. According to production notes, “Circumcise Me” tells the true story of Yisrael Campbell, your average Irish, Italian, Catholic kid from Philly, who became a sober alcoholic, recovering drug addict, husband, father, reform, conservative, unorthodox, orthodox, Jewish comic actor.”

Yisrael (born Christopher) takes the audience on an extraordinary spiritual, creative, and hysterically funny journey including, ouch, three circumcisions along the way. This show is much more than an off-Broadway solo act, heavy on jokes and seasoned lightly with social commentary. Yisrael Campbell began life as Christopher Campbell, born in suburban Philadelphia and raised Roman Catholic. His story, of a misspent, alcoholic youth and eventual conversion to Judaism not once but three times, is the stuff of shtick. And in Campbell’s genial and polished recounting, it’s a tale well told.

All performances will be in the Merage JCC’s Myers Theatre located at 1 Federation Way in Irvine.

Tickets for the shows start at $35 and are available by calling the JCC at (949) 435-3400, extension 237. For additional information contact Sheila Witzling at sheilaw@jccoc.org.

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