HomeMarch 2013Smiling Son of Survivors

Smiling Son of Survivors

Jake Ehrenreich is bringing his smash Broadway hit, A Jew Grows in Brooklyn, to the Merage Jewish Community Center for two performances on Saturday and Sunday, March 16 and 17.  The highly acclaimed show, which chronicles Ehrenreich’s life, is an engaging, poignant and hilarious comedy musical about the search for identity and meaning.

From the streets of Brooklyn and struggle with his family’s past, to the laughter and rebirth of Catskills summers, to his mother’s and two sisters’ heartbreaking early Alzheimer’s disease, this tour de force performance is a delightful journey that speaks to anyone hoping to live out the American Dream.

The New York Times raves that A Jew Grows in Brooklyn is “funny, touching and beautiful… you don’t have to be Jewish or Brooklynish…Jake Ehrenreich is dazzling!”  The Philadelphia Inquirer calls it “an uplifting treasure with universal appeal — in the same elevated company as Billy Crystal’s 700 Sundays, and Chaz Palminteri’s A Bronx Tale.”

Through stories, comedy and music, performed with multimedia video and photos — including a classic rock medley (“California Dreamin’,” “Secret Agent Man,” “Sunshine of Your Love”), a multi-instrumental version of Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing” and even a selection of Yiddish songs – Ehrenreich mesmerizingly recreates his unforgettable journey of discovery and lessons learned.  From the stoops of Brooklyn to Rock n’ Roll days — from the comedy and musical stages of the Catskills and Broadway to the bedsides of ailing parents and siblings, this show has a glow all its own and is touching, soulful and laugh-out-loud funny.

Ehrenreich wants to tell his own story using as much humor as possible.  While he shares the story of his parents’ survival, he avoids leaving the audience feeling saddened.  Mixing light-hearted stories with serious ones, he balances comedy and tragedy throughout the show.

“This is a nostalgic story that speaks to, hopefully, the future, to people realizing there are positive things to think about,” Ehrenreich said.  “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

When Jake Ehrenreich was growing up in Brownsville in the 1960s, he wanted nothing more than to be an American.  But his Yiddish-speaking parents, who failed to understand the game of baseball or make sense of rock music, made it difficult for him to feel part of the mainstream culture.  In his new one-man show, A Jew Grows in Brooklyn, directed by Jon Huberth, Ehrenreich explores how his family history, dominated by the shadow of the Holocaust, shaped the man he turned out to be.  Ehrenreich, 55, has appeared on Broadway in Dancin, Barnum and They’re Playing Our Song. He has also performed Yiddish music in two Off-Broadway productions, Songs of Paradise and The Golden Land.

Ehrenreich’s father’s Hasidic family had been one of the wealthiest in Poland.  During the war, both he and his wife ended up in a work camp in Siberia, where one of their daughters was born.  After spending time in a displaced persons camp, the family came to America, where they tried to give their children a life free from the taint of victimhood.

But it was not to be.  Ehrenreich and his two sisters grew up feeling, as he put it, that existence was “tenuous” and that the “world could end at any moment.”  Yet he also shares many wonderful memories of his youth, from playing stoop ball to attending Shea Stadium to vacationing in the Catskills, where Ehrenreich began performing in a band at the tender age of 12.

Indeed, Ehrenreich tells much of his life story through music.  One striking moment in the show occurs when Ehrenreich recalls learning that almost all of his favorite composers were Jewish like him.  “I don’t want to bring people too far into the black hole of the Holocaust,” Ehrenreich said, noting that his show is mostly upbeat and optimistic.  “If people in the audience laugh,” he concluded, “it means that they trust me not just to take them to a more serious place, but to bring them out and make them joyous and grateful when they leave.”

For Ehrenreich, his show is ultimately a “celebration.”  He quotes Billy Crystal, who quipped that performing a show about his life was like “a visit with my family every night.”  Jake’s story is personal and universal at the same time, and has now spawned a book by the Chicken Soup for the Soul publishers, a TV documentary and a related feature film.

The Merage JCC is offering two performances of Jake Erenreich’s A Jew Grows in Brooklyn show on Saturday, March 16, at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, March 17, at 4 p.m.  Reserved seating advance tickets are $25 for JCC members and $35 for the public; tickets at the door are $40.  The Merage JCC is located at 1 Federation Way in Irvine.  For more information or to order tickets go to the website www.jccoc.org or phone (949) 435-3400.

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