Jewish, the Musical

Jewish, the Musical (Jewish Songs for All)

Since "Fiddler on the Roof" there hasn't been a musical, at least not on the Broadway scale, that made Jewish people, its history, traditions, struggle, and aspirations its central theme, and "Jewish, the Musical" is just that. As Jews themselves along with everyone else are always fascinated with the question of what "Jewish" mean, what makes a person "Jewish" and what it entails, we have an opportunity to answer this question through the art of music, maybe first made for TV, later for live Broadway shows and then for a Hollywood movie. 

The opportunity is there and we see that movies and shows ("The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" is one of the most noticeable) are attempting to meet this interest. But still, it's very difficult to create a true classic that people would continue to watch and listen to over and over again and there is no such show about Jews yet. We at "Jewish, the Musical" know the secret and already tested our concept with encouraging results.

Jewish, the Musical tells the story of how the stereotype of a Jew changes from outcast or oddity (e.g. Haredim) to a revolutionary that changes how we understand this world and (e.g. Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Sergey Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, and many others). 

ly Jewish people through catchy dialogue and klezmer-pop-style songs and dances presented by students of the Manhattan Arts public high school on the stage in Times Square. We see them during the rehearsal and then the show itself, as they present Jewish, the Musical that they helped to develop under the guidance of their music teacher who is in love with Klezmer music and translates traditional Yiddish songs to English. 

Only three out of eight students are Jewish in this cast, but the rehearsals and the Time Square performance itself become a way for 10-Grades to learn about the culture and history of the people whose songs and stories are at the center of the musical and by the end of the show each one of them expresses an interest to start their own quest discovering their own cultural roots as part of their American identity.

Olga Shapiro, a 25-year-old songwriter and music teacher who wrote, produced, and directed this year's annual school showcase of a musical is an Odessa, Ukraine-born singer-songwriter and translator of Yiddish songs into English. Though Ukrainian and Russian are her first languages, Olga attempts, with the help of a couple of her talented students closely collaborating with her on show development, to save Jewish songs from sinking into obscurity due to language barriers, be it a limited number of Hebrew or diminishing number of Yiddish speakers.  She believes that translating and adapting these songs into the world's lingua franca is the best way to preserve them for future generations and tell the world Jewish story through these beautiful tunes. 

Olga's mother Oksana Shapiro had a successful career as the first lady of the Odesa Opera House back in the day when Ukraine was still part of the USSR, and like all Ukrainians, she watches in horror at what Russians do to her country. Olga's father Boris Shapiro is a professor and a world-renowned expert in Eastern European folk music, who teaches the history of Yiddish songs at New York University.     

Olga is a very good-looking young lady with brown hair and blue eyes, who happened to have a very beautiful voice and for whom translating Jewish songs into English and performing them is not only her favorite thing to do, but she thinks of it as a mission, as something that she as a Jewish woman was born to do to help her people to explore, develop further and preserve through these beautiful songs its cultural unique ethnic Jewish identity. 

She experienced antisemitism back in Russia when she was hired as a security guard at a factory in the middle of Russia and didn't mention anything about her Jewish background during the interview. The manager of the security department really liked her and a few minutes after the interview he was introducing her to their team of about 50 people, her future colleagues. Feeling she must be completely honest with people whom she's going to work with Olga in her 30-second-thank-you speech says that she's Jewish and immediately something happens: everyone becomes silent, the face of the manager suddenly becomes gray-reddish-green and rest of the audience hurried to look down or away.  A few minutes later she is fired and that's when her thoughts about Israel or America as a place to live become reinforced and later that year she makes aliyah.  

In Israel, she becomes friends with Misha, a yeshiva student born in Russia and they start the "Jewish Songs. In Russian" project. She translates and adapts the original Jewish songs from Yiddish, Hebrew, Polish and other languages following Misha's guidance, and two years later there are "Hatikvah", "Hava Nagila", "Tumbalalaika", "Hevenu Shalom Aleichem", "A Bisele Mazl", "Tango of Auschwitz", "Spring in the Ghetto" and other Jewish standards are translated and recorded in Russian, just demo versions, but songs immediately become a success.  Now, Jewish songs, the best ones, are available to listen to and enjoy, not only to 15 million Hebrew and one million Yiddish speakers but to 280 million Russian speakers worldwide and they are getting ready to translate these trousers to English. 

Olga's journey of discovering her people's history through songs, especially by saving them from sinking into obscurity to the mainstream of the English language, inspires her 10 Grade students to better understand Jewish unique identity and story and consequently make the next step: to become interested in discovering their own cultural heritage, including Spanish, African, Asian, Italian and Mediterranean cultural heritages while thinking of themselves now as Americans whose story has roots in other lands.

When "Hava Nagila", "Tumbalalaika", "A Yiddishe Mama", "Hatikvah", "A Bisele Mazel", "Hevenu Shalom Aleichem", "Tango in Auschwitz", "Spring in the Ghetto", "I Love You Much Too Much" and other Jewish standards are translated and adapted to English, by talented lyricists, these songs open to the world the DNA of the Jewish identity and collective memory, they enable the show to tell the story without the language barrier, be it Yiddish, Hebrew, Ladino, Polish or other languages in which genuine Jewish songs exist, but don't have the ability to be heard and understood by global audiences. Jewish, the Musical fixes this problem. 

Olga's talent does more than just translate them, she finds the roots of each human story in these songs and transforms them into universal stories while keeping the references to the song's origins and that makes them so special and appealing to the general public, not only to Jewish audiences. A good example of how a traditional Yiddish "Mezinka" is transformed into a universal English-language wedding song that still sounds unmistakeably Jewish (titled - "Forever")

The songs are arranged in different styles, but most notably in klezmer pop and swing, as well as hip hop, and ballroom, often with Chasidic jazz connotations

It's the story of two Jewish teenagers, a boy, and a girl, who are just friends and try to figure out how to embrace their Jewish cultural identity while remaining cool and close friends with their 10-Grade classmates in today's public school. In the process of working on the show and the teenagers learn how to embrace and be proud of their own ethnic identities and heritage while accepting and respecting others. 

Every year students of the Manhattan Music Arts public school prepare an annual concert in the form of a musical, and this time it's called Jewish, the Musical. The author, and music teacher, Mr. Shapiro,  translated and adapted the old traditional Jewish songs to English as a way to make the best Jewish tunes available to wide audiences. This year's concert is scheduled to be streamed live from the heart of Times Square and is going to be broadcast on a few major media platforms, including national TV channels, Facebook Live, and YouTube. 

Jewish, the Musical presents the best of Jewish song and dance through the comedic crazy-straw of a high school show gone wrong and the teacher trying to keep chaos together. Songs are based on traditional Jewish folk tunes (e.g., "Dayeinu" and "Hatikvah" among others as well as on other tunes, for example in the song "How To Be Strong" or "Happy Birthday!"[Odesa, Ukrainian-Jewish tune]) with original lyrics in English and modern arrangements fusing klezmer with pop, hip hop, and ballroom swing.  

Jewish, the Musical tells the story of present-day teenagers, most of whom are not Jewish, discovering the cultural identity and the story of Jewish people through rehearsals and then presentation of a school musical in front of vast audiences while learning an important lesson: be proud of your own ethnic identity while respecting others no matter your background and be cool. 

Flashbacks from the rivers of Babylon, liberation day in Buchenwald, grandma's Channukah candles flickering all night, people on TV mama always points out exclaiming "He/she is Jewish!", "Lekhaim, dude!" and a superhero from a metaverse fighting antisemitism bring out reminiscences from Jewish history and come alive in a flamboyant spectacle that makes you think "Jewish? OMG!!!"  

While the best Yiddish songs, unfortunately, fade into obscurity, along with the language, Jewish song tradition is at risk of being eroded and forgotten and as Hebrew speakers are limited to only 15 million worldwide the English translations and adaptations of the top Jewish songs have the ability not only preserve and revive the beautiful treasure chest of most cherished songs that reflect the ethic DNA and collective memory but also, due to such outstanding quality of lyrics that sometimes are better than the originals, and a new approach to musical arrangements, inspire in global audiences (as over 6 million views already showed), not only Jewish but especially non-Jewish listeners to pursue their genuine interest in the beauty of these timeless gems and especially in people who created them. That's could be seen as another, so maybe even more effective way to fight antisemitism in today's world. 

P.S. While preserving and reviving the best and most beautiful Jewish songs and heritage opening them to worldwide audiences, Jewish, the Musical unequivocally supports and promotes the values of friendship, inclusion, tolerance, and diversity. 

Under development by Hudson Kin (Rigli), a member of the Dramatists Guild of America

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SOUND WE LIKE  and plan to incorporate into the show: