Ari Axelrod: A Celebration of Jewish Broadway

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Ari Axelrod

A Celebration of Jewish Broadway

Birdland Theater, NYC, June 10, 2019

Reviewed by Bart Greenberg for Cabaret Scenes

Ari Axelrod

He is a singing actor with a creamy voice, a sense of humor, and a fine theatrical sense. He has a personal trick of speaking specific lyrics for tremendous (whether comic or dramatic) effect. To say that Ari Axelrod is the total package as a cabaret artist would be an understatement.

With great personal investment in his topic, the entertainer explored the strong influence of traditional and liturgical Jewish music on the sounds of Broadway.

He also presented some interesting theories on why Jews were drawn to create musical theater—a combination of pursuing the American dream while coming from a culture rich in a storytelling tradition.
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Among the many highlights of the show was the emphasis on the family tradition of Jewish music, from the number of songwriters descended from cantors (Irving Berlin, Harold Arlen, Stephen Schwartz, etc.) to the unique three generations of Broadway songwriters: Richard Rodgers (“Some Enchanted Evening”—the final lyrics rendered so softly and sadly were devastating); Mary Rodgers (“Shy,” delivered with great humor); and Adam Guettel (“How Glory Goes”—the intensity brought to the work’s imagery was shattering).

Axelrod filled the stage with characters as he recreated many of the personalities in Milk and Honey (he caressed the title tune and was hysterical inhabiting the 60ish female matchmaker/tour guide). He also revisited another role he has played on stage with delicious details: the Jewish writer knocked off his feet by his “Shiksa Goddess.” Turning to another Jason Robert Brown hero, his Leo Frank was shattering as he insisted “This Is Not Over Yet.
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Throughout he sketched specifics of how traditional liturgical music appeared in such unlikely material as “It Ain’t Necessarily So,” “God Bless America,” and even the very unJewish Cole Porter’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and “So in Love.”

Axelrod was well-served by the invisible direction (the best kind) of Lina Koutrakos and the detailed music direction of Rick Jensen.

Bart Greenberg

Bart Greenberg first discovered cabaret a few weeks after arriving in New York City by seeing Julie Wilson and William Roy performing Stephen Sondheim and Cole Porter outdoors at Rockefeller Center. It was instant love for both Ms. Wilson and the art form. Some years later, he was given the opportunity to create his own series of cabaret shows while working at Tower Records. "Any Wednesday" was born, a weekly half-hour performance by a singer promoting a new CD release. Ann Hampton Callaway launched the series. When Tower shut down, Bart was lucky to move the program across the street to Barnes & Noble, where it thrived under the generous support of the company. The series received both The MAC Board of Directors Award and The Bistro Award. Some of the performers who took part in "Any Wednesday" include Barbara Fasano and Eric Comstock, Tony Desare, Andrea Marcovicci, Carole Bufford, the Karens, Akers, Mason and Oberlin, and Julie Wilson. Privately, Greenberg is happily married to writer/photographer Mark Wallis, who as a performance artist in his native England gathered a major following as "I Am Cereal Killer."