A Jew from Brooklyn is charming Manhattan.
After appearing on Broadway, performing as a vocalist in the Rainbow Room, and touring worldwide as Ringo in "Beatlemania," writer and performer Jake Ehrenreich tells his story as the child of Holocaust survivors in his off-Broadway musical comedy, "A Jew Grows in Brooklyn."
"I have done a lot of different performances. Broadway, Yiddish theater, and my own rock ’n’ roll gigs. With my Jewish work, I was always telling my parents’ story," Ehrenreich told GO Brooklyn via telephone. "But then I thought, I know I’m not alone here. I lived a regular American kid’s life, with a twist. That story wasn’t being told anywhere."
Ehrenreich, now 50, grew up in Brownsville with his parents, originally from Poland, and two older sisters. The importance of family is a theme throughout the show, and the audience meets his family through memories, Yiddish songs backed by a quartet of musicians and singers, and projected family snapshots.
"The show was only in production for two weeks. The American Theatre for Actors is a smaller space and a little challenging, but I wanted to get the show up and see if people came," recalled Ehrenreich. "I thought to myself, ’Will people really find this interesting and amusing, or am I just nuts?’ People loved it. The run is sold out."
Since wrapping the sold-out run at the American Theatre, "A Jew Grows in Brooklyn" began performances on June 7 in its new home, Manhattan’s Lambs Theater.
"The Lambs Theater is actually my favorite off-Broadway theatre," said Ehrenreich. "It has a long history. It’s very exciting and funny how your dreams start to come true."
Part of the beauty of "A Jew Grows in Brooklyn" lies in the audience, who come to feel like they are part of Ehrenreich’s family, if only for two hours.
Many people come to the show to embrace nostalgia about their childhood. The first question Ehrenreich asks is "Who’s from Brooklyn?" causing people in almost every row to shout out their neighborhood. Even the set is reminiscent of Ehrenreich’s stoop in Brownsville, and he bounces a red-rubber ball to ignite memories of everyone’s favorite sport, stickball.
"I’m always fascinated by who comes," he said. "The show speaks to people who are more like me. They like the show because there’s Yiddish; they recognize my journey from their own children; and they know my parents. As soon as I bounce the red rubber ball, they crack up because they remember."
Audience members quickly become entranced by Ehrenreich’s unstoppable energy and charisma. He jumps from telling heartfelt stories, to playing the drums, to cracking jokes about family members - and audience members alike.
But you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate Ehrenreich’s story.
"My director [John Huberth] said to me, ’This is not only a Jewish story: it’s an immigrant story, an American story.’ And I think it’s true," he recalled. "Most kids that came over to America were embarrassed of their parents, and just wanted to be American, like I was."
In the show, Ehrenreich talks of loving popular music and especially baseball - he’s a Mets fan - while growing up, because he wanted to fit in. "If you’re coming to see a standard musical comedy, you’ll be confused. My show is a person telling his honest story in a funny and loving way."
The musical comedy, which opened on April 10, has touched many lives, proving to be therapeutic for both the audience and the performer.
"People often tell me their stories after the show, and say it reminded them of their own lives. That is the greatest part, knowing I am touching people emotionally, that I am really speaking to them," said Ehrenreich. "There has been a flow of people telling their friends and family about the show. The word is spreading, and there is a healing going with it."
Although the audience shares many laughs with Ehrenreich as he pokes fun at his bar mitzvah pictures and impersonates a Catskills comedian, there is a serious side to his story.
"I could have made this a really sad show," he said. "Six million [Jewish people killed in the Holocaust] is a big number. But to take a look at one family and understand the ramifications is much easier. I tell the truth in my show, but also talk about finding the joy in life, which is really the lesson. I work very hard to find the joy in my life while still dealing with the difficult stuff."
Ehrenreich now lives upstate in Monroe with his wife, Lisa, and 8-year-old son, Joseph ("Dovy").
"Doing eight shows a week is hard, because I am away from my family," he explained. "If they offered me the lead in ’Jersey Boys,’ I wouldn’t take it."
Although it has required sacrifices such as these, Ehrenreich has been rewarded with the open-ended run of "A Jew Grows in Brooklyn" at the Lambs Theater.
"I’m like the last of the Mohegans," said Ehrenreich. "There are few people my age who still have parents who are survivors. No one will tell this story again, so I’m going to tell it until people don’t want to hear it anymore."
"A Jew Grows in Brooklyn"
plays at the Lambs Theater (130 W. 44th St. between Sixth Avenue
and Broadway in Manhattan) Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8
pm and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 3 pm. Tickets: $25-$60.
For tickets, call (800) 432-7250 or (212) 239-6200 or visit www.telecharge.com.
For more information, visit www.ajewgr