Amerike—The Golden Land, playing an extended run at at the Museum of Jewish Heritage, brings the story of Jewish immigration to life in a series of musical vignettes covering 50 years of Jewish immigration in New York. Twelve amazingly talented performers—six women and six men—sing and dance through time and space revealing characters and culture in 90 minutes of humor, humanity, emotions and experiences. Amerike is familiar and funny, filled with the pathos and privilege of becoming American.
There is a special poignancy in hearing Emma Lazarus’ words of welcome sung as some in America seek to close the Golden Door through which generations of Jewish immigrants walked, especially in a place virtually facing the Lady with the Lamp. “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” That’s what America is about—or is it? In a scene set in the late 1930s, an anti-immigration American shouts, “Live and let live—none of our business!” at the Jews asking for changes in immigration law that would have allowed them to escape the spreading horror of the Holocaust.
The 2017 edition of Zalmen Mlotek and Moishe Rosenfeld’s 1984 musical Golden Land, Amerike is presented mostly in Yiddish with English and Russian subtitles. It is, simply put, terrific. It portrays the New York Jewish immigrant experience through a compendium of 40 melodies, each representing a time, an event or an embraceable moment.
Yael Lubetzky’s lighting creates almost tangible sets that take the viewer from Ellis Island to the Lower East Side. We witness a Shabbat celebration; mourning for the victims of the Triangle Fire; picket lines and lines of protest; a visit to a Yiddish theater’s rendition of Macbeth (with titles printed in Old English script); survival; resilience; building and rebuilding; finding joy in the stolen kiss; and finally a return to the dock, this time to welcome a Holocaust survivor. Surprisingly, the iconic “Yiddishe Mama,” the song that connects so many to their immigrant roots, is missing.
In a joyful conclusion to the robust evening, the musicians, led by M’lotek, perform a concert of traditional Yiddish music. The audience lingers even after the musicians leave the stage.
Amerike is directed by Drama Desk Award nominee Bryna Wasserman, who has a multigenerational association with Yiddish theater. She joined the 103-year-old National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene four years ago. Christopher Massimine, also a Drama Desk Award nominee, is the producer.
The cast, who play multiple roles, include Glenn Seven Allen (The Light in the Piazza), Alexandra Frohlinger (Soul Doctor), Daniel Kahn (Death of a Salesman), Dani Marcus (A Gentleman’s Guide), Stephanie Lynne Mason (Fiddler on the Roof) and David Perlman (Baby It’s You!). Jessica Rose Futran and Christopher Tefft are understudies. Grant Richards, Maya Jacobson, Alexander Kosmowski, Raquel Nobile, Isabel Nesti and Bobby Underwood complete the ensemble.